Anthea Gerrie heads to scenic Norfolk to explore new art exhibitions at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and Houghton Hall.
Even without world-class artists like Anish Kapoor, David Hockney and Aubrey Beardsley in the mix, Norfolk would be worth a visit for the glorious scenery alone. However, add in Hockney’s iPad drawings of Yosemite, Beardsley’s erotic scribbles and Kapoor’s mirrored vision of England’s biggest skies and this most remote of counties becomes a must-visit destination for summer and autumn 2020.
Norwich is the jewel in the crown of a county best known for royal residences and messing about on boats, but its capital city is unexpectedly beautiful, with secret alleys leading to hidden courtyards and piazza-like mediaeval squares at every turn. However, city-phobes can avoid the narrow cobbled streets by heading direct to the University of East Anglia campus on the outskirts, where Norman Foster’s stunning Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts is surrounded by a formal sculpture garden on one side and a wild, beautiful river walk on the other.
Even if there were no special exhibitions, the permanent collection of Robert and Lisa Sainsbury would be worth the journey alone to browse 5000 years of primitive figures from the ancient world, many of them no bigger than an inch tall. There are also French Impressionist treasures, paintings by Bacon, Picasso, Modigliani and other 20th century greats, Modernist furniture, pottery by Lucie Rie and a display case set with exquisite white porcelain mini-vessels by Edmund de Waal.
Allow a good hour to browse the highlights of the ground floor before ascending to the mezzanine for Art Nouveau: the Nature of Dreams. This is where the Beardsley drawing comes in, along with fabulous lustre vases and other ceramics, furniture, glass, jewellery, textiles and sculpture of the fertile period at the turn of the 20th century where nature-inspired the arts and crafts movement and the flowering of Britain’s arguably greatest pre-war design period.
Come before September 20, 2020, and you can also catch Art Deco by the Sea, a joyous celebration of the lidos, winter gardens, modernist hotels and apartment buildings which appeared as elegant punctuation marks to Britain’s most famous resorts, many mimicking the curved hulls and monumental white presence of ocean liners. As for those iPad paintings of Yosemite National Park by Hockney, blown up and displayed in giant lightboxes in the gallery foyer, they will be on display for the foreseeable future and should not be missed.
The stately home of Houghton Hall is just over an hour’s drive west, and home to the sculpture show of the year, courtesy of Anish Kapoor. The huge horizons of Norfolk, flat and tree-less in many places, cry out for one of the sculptor’s famous Sky Mirrors, and it would be nice to think the one he created for this exhibition, placed dead centre of the lawn in front of the august 8th-century pile, might join masterworks by James Turrell, Richard Long, Rachel Whiteread and others as permanent artworks in the outdoor collection.
While this is billed as Kapoor’s largest-ever show of outdoor sculptures, the star turn for this viewer was the Stone Salon inside the house at the top of the double staircase. Here, Kapoor has hung convex mirrors in jewel tones to reflect back in Technicolor the ornate architectural details of a white wedding cake of a room. There is a sinuous curved marble sculpture here too, and more works of alabaster, limestone and marble in the grounds, plus drawings and colour field paintings in other inside spaces at ground level.
Don’t miss wandering in the gardens to the right of the house to discover a cast hut by Rachel Whiteread and the Turrell skyspace, where some visitors while away hours watching the clouds sail by above them through a hole in the ceiling, this one in a chalet at the top of a long, ramped ascent. Allow a good two hours for the visit, which requires booking an entry slot ahead, as do the special exhibitions at the Sainsbury Centre.
A good base for both these art extravaganzas is the Maids Head Hotel in Norwich city centre, an easy stroll from the 1000-year-old Cathedral and mediaeval Norwich Lanes. However, it’s worth mentioning the Dabbling Duck pub in the picturesque village of Great Massingham near Houghton Hall, as it also offers accommodation(dog-friendly, like the Maids Head) and wood-fired pizza, cooked in a barn to be consumed in the pub garden. It’s on a direct route back to the M11 which avoids Norwich and its somewhat confusing ring roads.
Tell Me More about Anish Kapoor And Art Nouveau In Norfolk
Art Nouveau: The Nature of Dreams runs till January 3, 2021
The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts UEA, Norwich, NR4 7TJ
T: 01603 593199
Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall runs till November 1, 2020
Houghton Hall & Gardens , Bircham Road, King’s Lynn PE31 6TY
T: 01485 528569
For more information on Norwich and surrounding areas please go to Visit Norwich