Some thoughts on the visit to the Sainsbury Centre
‘Art as a window on the world’ is the slogan that the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich uses to capture the experiences that can take place within their diverse collection. We had an opportunity to look through this window when we visited the centre on the last day of the research week bringing all the discussions and presentations, which we had engaged in the past days, into a concrete museum context. Nichola Johnson introduced us to the impressive Norman Foster building and the art works, which were (and still are) collected and donated by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury.
The collection consists of over 1300 objects – all acquired from a purely aesthetic perspective, which is emphasized by the way it is exhibited. It includes sculpture, paintings, masks and objects form all over the world ranging from 2000 BC up till today. Each object on display is led to speak for itself, the sculptures are placed so they can be experienced from all sides and there is no obvious narrative to follow, except from the geographical arrangement. There are many things to be said about the lack of interpretative material and the demands it makes on the viewer to read own meaning into the object. Personally I was a bit disillusioned at first, not so much because of the actual exhibition, but because of the noise from the café, the missing overview of the exhibition space as well as the impressive height of the building, which meant that all objects seemed so tiny and pressed towards the ground. I wondered around a bit, restless, without being able to concentrate or focus. There were impressive art works, Giacometti, Picasso, Moore, but mixed with small ancient sculptures and masks. The more I looked, the more I became aware of myself, as a figure walking around among figures. It hit me that the collection was not diverse or at least not as randomly collected as Nicola had expressed – or at least that was not the impression that I had. The human figure in space or the human gazing out in space seemed to be a strong theme running through the objects. The stares from the African masks, a mummy portrait, John Davies’ lonely bucket man, a small fat fertility figurine or Moore’s Mother and child all seem to be occupied in with some kind of human condition or a way of existing in the world as a body. This strong narrative was for me not build up with a beginning, middle and an end, but forced itself upon me as I moved around the space, growing strong since I began consciously to focus on this particular aspect. I realize that this was a highly personal way of reading these objects and also that I did not really learn anything new about the objects. But still the experience I had, made me aware of myself, as a figure, as a body, and as a human being. The window for me was not so much towards the world, but more towards myself.
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.