After all that old stuff, a refreshing dose of modernity at Norman Foster’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.

Study for Portrait of P.L. No. 2 by Francis Bacon 1957

I spent last weekend in Norwich, a city rich in medieval architecture and echoes from the past. It was a complete change of mood when I visited the university of East Anglia, about four miles out of the city, on a wet Norfolk afternoon. I was heading for an inspiring palace of modernity, The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.  The building, on the University campus, was English architect Norman Foster’s first public building commissioned by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury when the donated their modern art collection to the university including works by Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and Picasso. It was built between 1974 and 1976 with two major, Foster designed, extentions opened in 1991 and 2006.

It was worth the visit just to see the building still brightly crisp even in the rain and a real treat to see an important art gallery that has escaped from the usual city centre site.

It is, of course, a work of art in its own right but, exciting as it is as a visual pleasure, it doesn’t upstage the art that it houses.

Art is all around you – even when you visit the very civilised gallery restaurant with its giant Norman Foster window and a view of the sculpture garden that displayed sculpture by the British artist, now Los Angeles based, Thomas Houseago.

Even the tea service was a work of art.

It was possible to sit over a cup of tea and admire Houseago’s wacky figures as if they were in your own living room. Any millionaires out there wanting to design me a house, this would do just fine.

After tea, I could walk round two floors devoted to modern sculpture…..

Rattlesnake Figure by Thomas Houseago 2011

Hands & Feet III by Thomas Houseago 2011

Astronaut by Thomas Houseago 2008

Mother and Child by Henry Moore 1932

Bucket Man by John Davies 1974

Father and Daughter by F E McWilliam 1949 

After the sculpture, there was a small but engaging exhibition by the photographic duo Anderson & Low featuring work from their latest project Manga Dreams inspired by Japanese Manga comics.

Untitled (Kit The Swordsman) by Anderson & Low 2012

Untitled (Aqua Boy) by Anderson & Low 2012
Manga Dreams by Anderson & Low 2012

And finally, in this modernist museum, there was also an exhibition drawn from the university’s rich collection of Art Nouveau: The First Moderns, Art Nouveau, from Nature to Abstraction. It was memorable seeing some of these exquisite objects in the context of the early Twentieth Century avant garde. I left with my eyes refreshed.

Vase by Loetz c.1900

Vase by Emile Gallé  c. 1920

Vase by Louis Comfort Tiffany 1902

Buckle by René Lalique 1903/4

Etagère by Louis Majorelle 1900

 Adjustable Lounge Chair by Josef Hoffman 1908

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