The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Norwich Castle Museum

As promised, here's my report about Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.


The Castle Keep

To begin with, I have to confess that I didn't 'do' the whole museum. An inventive pricing scheme means that you have to decide, before you enter the museum, what you want to see, i.e. the Castle & History Zone, Art & Exhibitions Zone, Natural History Zone, or all three. Each zone carries an admission, though once you're in, you can stay all day. Over the years I've had enough of Romans and Vikings, so plumped for the Arts & Exhibitions Zone. I handed the attendant a range of membership/discount cards (Museums Association, NUS, National Arts Collection Fund and Association of Arts Historians) and got in free!

A large proportion of the art collection currently on show consists of Victorian paintings or art on a local theme - perfectly pleasant, but not really my thing. My new found insider knowledge of etchings (did a print workshop a couple of weekends ago) gave me a new appreciation of the etchings in the collection and I enjoyed the twentieth-century paintings of East Anglian landscapes, particularly those by Edward Seago (a self-taught oil painter, who - before becoming an artist - ran off to join the circus!).


Some Nelson (my favourite man and local hero!) 'stuff'


The world's largest teapot, made for the Great Exhibition, 1851.

I was pleasantly surprised by the interpretive techniques employed in the galleries. There was the standard combination of basic objects labels and larger text panels, but the curatorial team had made use of poetry, particularly a poem by Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, at the entrance to the main art gallery. I guess the aim was to engage visitors with the artworks and provide something thought-provoking to encourage people to think about the works on a deeper level beyond surface aesthetics.

I'd like to say that the exhibition currently on display in the Bernard Matthew's gallery (yes, it's really called that, I do not jest. Bernie, as he's known in my neck of the woods, is a significant local figure - almost part of East Anglian mythology these days - and major employer (though, perhaps not for much longer, what with the turkey twizzlers debacle and bird 'flu) was - wait for it - clucking good, but I can't. 'Waterlog' is inspired by 'The Rings of Saturn' by W.G. Sebald who, until his untimely death in 2001 in a car accident, was a tutor on the famous MA Creative Writing course at U.E.A. I can strongly recommend the book (it's fabulous), but the works on show, specially commissioned from a number of British artists, just didn't move me.

The Arts & Exhibition Zone ticket includes entry to the decorative arts galleries. My particular favourite was the Twinings Gallery of British teapots (I once applied for a job as the curator of the collection - didn't get it, big shame, cos I'm a real tea connoisseur and I love teapots!). Also on show were fairly substantial collections of ceramics and silverware. I was impressed by the museum's attempts to gather the opinions of its users to inform a planned refit of the decorative arts galleries. Visitors are encouraged to fill in a form telling the museum what they like/dislike about the current displays, and what they'd like to see more/less of. Okay, a fairly superficial contribution, but shows an enlightened attitude on the part of the curatorial team all the same.


An interesting installation by Julian Walker, which links 'flawed' objects from the collection, with the names of prisoners once incarcerated in the castle when it was a prison.


I haven't been to the Castle Museum for a number of years and certainly not since its refit. I was impressed. While the admission fee (around £6 to see everything) seemed a little steep initially, there really is enough to keep one occupied for a whole day, which you could punctuate with lunch in the really nice atrium cafe and a bit of retail therapy in the museum shop (or the adjacent Castle Mall!). I can strongly recommend it!

4 comments:

Ceri said...

Very interesting so thank you Amy for the review. I was really interested to see the display of flawed items, makes me wonder why they are flawed in the first place but still important enough to collect.

However I think I will have to consider Norwich's claim to have world's largest teapot because I am certain that there is one in Stoke on Trent which is also the world's largest teapot. Some investigation will be necessary. :)

Amy said...

Well, perhaps it was the biggest in 1851! :P It was about half as tall as me, and twice as wide (I realise that won't help anyone who hasn't met me to visualise it!). It's interesting to me because, although there was a display of Chinese objects at the Great Exhibition, by then the British public were pretty bored by China and not much was written about them, apart from to say how formulaic and moribund they were (you've got to remember that China and Britain weren't exactly the best of friends at the time!). So, the chinoiserie decoration and the representation of tea drinking in China is fairly significant.

The flawed items, were objects in the collection which were damaged in some way and wouldn't normally get the 'privilege' of being put on public display, so a sherd of pottery or a damaged butterfly, for example. It was an interesting little display. Shame it was tucked away in a corner out of normal visitor 'circulation'.

Ceri said...

Oh so like the broken biscuits which are only sold in the damp and smelly market hall (sorry I have a fear of markets but I am sure they are wonderful places).

padma said...

I'd like to add, though it's not much publicised by Norfolk Museum Service, that during school time (i.e. not school holidays) you can get in the whole Castle Museum for an hour for a pound! And re the item with the names of prisoners on, the number of times I've been past it and I never noticed the names, I must have a good look at it as soon as I get my new Museum season ticket.