The Sculpture Park at the Sainsbury Centre

The other evening I was invited through an alternative Garden Gate, to a special tour of the Sculptures sited around the large campus of the University of East Anglia. Situated in a landscape of some 350 acres, a large lake and the river Yare, this is remarkably, an unknown delight, except maybe to those who are former students.

We met at the Sainsbury Centre, and for those who don’t know, this is not another supermarket but an amazing building designed by the then relatively unknown architect Norman Foster in 1974, which houses an extraordinary collection of art. Our tour began at the west end of the building where woodland curves round behind a grassy area. Four magnificent sculpture are sited here and you might be forgiven for thinking with such an acreage why are they not more spread out across the rest of the landscape. The simple answer is that it is only on this small site that no planning permission is required but because it is a public park, planning permission is needed anywhere else. It had never occurred to me before that you might need planning permission to erect a piece of art.

All the pieces are on loan and it is the bronze head created in 1997 by John Davies (b1946) and positioned just at the edge of the woodland that you first see. By the nature of its position you feel it must be looking towards the glass facade of the building,

however on closer inspection the eyes appear from this monumental head to be looking at nothing in particular.

Nearby is a Henry Moore; surely no sculpture park is complete without one and perhaps it was through Moore’s sculptures that so many of us were introduced to the abstract art world. ‘Draped reclining woman ‘ is cast in bronze and dated 1957-58.

So utterly different from Moore’s familiar form is ‘Sun’s roots II’ by Phillip King (b1934) who actually spent a year as an assistant to Moore. Over the course of his career he exhibited all over the world and worked in a variety of media;

this is painted steel and is influenced by his time spent in Japan. Sun meets earth and as you move round …

… the piece seems to flow, move a little and bend too.

There is also movement from this static couple, ‘Pair of Walking Figures – Jubilee’. They are the final sculpture in this space created in 1977 by Lynn Chadwick (1914 – 2003). Walking towards the Centre,

together they seem intent on visiting the exhibition, currently Art Noveau, and I know they will enjoy it, for it is a dazzling display. Their cloaks ruffle and flow behind,

abstract but expressive, their flat faces are expressionless whilst their bodies hold an air of elegance, perhaps best not to step in their way.

We walk along the south side of the exhibition centre. It is empty of people right now but during lockdown the park became a delightful escape for many Norwich residents. As a consequence the university is having a rethink about the park and its sculpture and an exciting new project is in the planning to increase the number of exhibits and ultimately create the best sculpture park in the country.

Tatlin’s tower stands prominently. After the Russian revolution Vladimir Tatlin (1885-19530) was charged by Lenin to implement his campaign to replace monuments reflecting the Tsarist period. Tatlin proposed an abstract design that would not only commemorate the revolution but also to serve as the headquarters of the Third International or Comintern. The monument was never realised and this is a reconstruction ‘Model of the Monument to the Third International’

We have arrived at the east end of the Sainsbury Centre where we find Lynn Chadwick’s three beasts captured in various states of action; on the left is ‘Crouching Beast II, in the middle ‘Beast Alerted I’ and on the right ‘Lion I’

They were made in 1990 from welded sheets of stainless steel. Chadwick is said to have delighted in the properties that steel afforded, feeling that no matter how dull the weather some facet of the sculptures would catch and reflect the light. As the sun fades the beasts certainly demonstrate that quality.

How fortunate these students are to be able to gaze upon these sculptures as they go about their studies on campus. Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure’ was acquired in 1962 and I am sure has enjoyed many an undergraduate’s prank.

Sir Denys Lasdun designed the Ziggurats which were completed in 1968. They are unique, pieces of art in their own right, and nestling into the landscape, they are in fact the students’ residential quarters. Placed in front of the Ziggurats is the large tubular metal structure painted in matt black and created in 2006 by Ian Tyson it is appropriately named ‘Proximity’.

I had never been down to the lake; it is a vast expanse set below the Ziggurats.

At the water’s edge are Dame Elizabeth Frink’s ‘Mirage I and II’ (1969). These extraordinary shapes were inspired by seeing the heat hazes and flamingoes in the south of France. No heat haze this evening but these part-bird and part-human structures still appear to shimmer.

Looking back towards the university buildings there on top of the central library is Sir Anthony Gormley’s figure ‘Another Time II’. Gormley might be considered as a local now that he lives in Norfolk.

There are actually three of these cast iron figures which were created in 2007, but before we ascend the stairs up to the library level in search of the remaining two, we encounter ‘ Extrapolation’ a structure of ascending steel plates which was originally created for Norwich Central Library in 1982 by the American born artist Liliane Lijn.

At the top of the winding concrete stairs we are met by a little surprise of ‘Another Time IV’.

and over up on the roof of the Biology Department is ‘Another Time II’. Using casts of his own body, Gormley personally selected the locations around the campus.

The pamphlet describes these figures as ‘thought-provoking and uncanny offering spectacle and surprise’, it is a description that could be afforded to all the sculptures in the park .

We end our tour, and close by the car we catch sight of the third Moore ‘Two Piece Reclining figure No 3’. Solid and familiar it is indeed thought-provoking.

The sculpture park is open to all and is free. It is a space to visit and watch with interest. The Sainsbury Centre is a spacious building and for this reason was the first gallery to re-open after lockdown. For further information https://sainsburycentre.ac.uk/

8 thoughts on “The Sculpture Park at the Sainsbury Centre

  1. I went there last week and loved and hated in equal measure. I thought the Pair of Walking Figures just fantastic and your photos excellent …thank you.

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  2. Thank you so much for going to the trouble to photograph and write up all the information on these fascinating sculptures. I doubt I will ever get to visit – so it’s wonderful to have a virtual tour.
    With many thanks
    Elizabeth Walker

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  3. What lucky students, to have all these challenging objects around. Abstract, they will be part of their landscape vocabulary for the rest of their lives. Good photos, showing them all in place. I worry about the Gormley on the top corner of a tallish building. Not a good place to put either humans or human-like sculptures.

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