Right now, you can catch two magnificent exhibitions at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. In completely different media, both shows communicate something about what it means to be a real, thinking, feeling person and the vulnerability that comes with it. We visited just before Christmas, and highly recommend that you catch both shows at this spectacular venue before they end.
Ken Kiff S186 Face above the water® The Estate of Ken Kiff. All rights reserved. Photograph Angelo Plantamura
Elisabeth Frink: Humans and Other Animals finishes soon, on the 24th of February. See this exhibition while you can; it’s one of the best shows that the Sainsbury Centre has ever done, and we thought it was fascinating. Also while you’re there, don’t miss Ken Kiff: The Sequence; the first museum exhibition of Kiff’s work in over 25 years, and a brilliant, complex and colourful showcase of the artists’ ‘symphony’ of paintings. The Sequence runs until 21st of April, so you’ve still got a few months to see this.
About Elisabeth Frink: Humans and Other Animals
Having seen the press release for this, we felt well prepared for the show we were about to see in the exhibition space beneath the main glass atrium of the Sainsbury Centre. We had seen images of bird-like forms in rough metal, and imposing sculptures of men and monsters, however the reality of Elisabeth Frink: Humans and Other Animals is much more emotional than you might expect.
Rising to prominence while she was still a student at the Chelsea College of Art in 1952, a lot of Frink’s work is in response to the Second World War, and to the climate of fear generated by the encroaching cold war. This is the largest exhibition of her works in 25 years, and features over 130 pieces by the artist, placed alongside work by other modern masters – most notably Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, August Rodin and Francis Bacon. The show traces the evolution of Frink’s work over four decades, presenting the major themes in her practice and paying particular attention to her early work.
Frink spoke about evoking strong feelings of "panic, tension, aggression and predatoriness"
The show is magnificent, and incredibly moving, which - for us - was unexpected. The human scale of the sculpture on display here means that as a viewer, your relationship with the pieces is intimate and doesn’t feel voyeuristic. Frink’s famous ‘Goggle Heads’, for example, are larger-than-life, and dominate the space that they’re in – this is the first time that so many have been displayed together, which creates a very particular atmosphere. In ‘Goggle Heads’, Frink explores split attributes of human nature, representing man both as aggressor and the victim; a theme which manifests in various guises throughout other places in the show too.
Describing her expressionist bird sculptures, Frink spoke about evoking "strong feelings of panic, tension, aggression and predatoriness", which – having been to this exhibition – feels true of all her work. Throughout this exhibition, we’re reminded not only of the horrifying qualities possessed by man, but of his vulnerability too. It’s a very powerful show indeed.
About Ken Kiff: The Sequence
This is an exhibition to appreciate on many levels, and like the Frink show, one that explores themes around human conflict. Without being existential, The Sequence takes the viewer on a journey of fantasy, psychology and lived experiences via a series of almost 200 works that Kiff created intermittently from 1971 until his death in 2001.
It is an important moment for twentieth century art in Britain: this is the first museum exhibition of Ken Kiff’s work for almost 25 years, and an important reappraisal of an artist who – despite being one of the most original artists working during the last century – is becoming a forgotten name in modern painting. In his opening speech at the press view, Sainsbury Centre Director Paul Greenhalgh compared the significance of the exhibition to that of the rediscovery of Goya and Vermeer, for example.
The paintings are shown – as you might guess - sequentially, and as you travel through this colourful exhibition the evolution of Kiff’s ideas are revealed from tentative beginnings all the way to the expansion of key themes. Although the paintings are ostensibly naive, the subjects and allegories within the work are profound and often relatable. What first appears to be a man in an armchair, unravels to become a disturbing exchange with a psychoanalyst, and a house on the hill becomes a place of nightmares and jeopardy. Throughout ‘The Sequence’, figurative elements interact with Kiff’s abstract style to create something distinct, expressive, and resonant – and enjoyable at the same time.
Go into this exhibition with an open mind, and really take the time to study the pieces on show and investigate; what you will find might surprise you.
And while you’re there…
You can spend a whole day at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, which is situated within the parklands of the University of East Anglia. As a Norwich resident, it’s easy to take for granted how impressive the building itself is: An other-worldy High-Tech structure made of soaring glass, steel and aluminium, this was architect Norman Fosters’ first major public building, and is now just over 40 years old. In fact, you might recognise it as The Avengers’ HQ as featured in recent Marvel films…
Inside, you will not only find limited-run exhibitions such as the Frink and Kiff shows, but also a permanent collection that’s free for the public to see. These include works by Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, and Francis Bacon, as well as major pieces from the ancient Mediterranean cultures of Egypt, Greece and Rome, and Medieval Europe. There’s more outside, with an expansive sculpture park that covers 350 acres of public space. It’s an environment open to everyone, encompassing its own Broad, and where you’ll find sculpture by Henry Moore, Anthony Gormley and Lynn Chadwick to name a few. And as of last year, you can see a Model of the Monument to the Third International – or Tatlin’s Tower – by Vladmir Tatlin; a doomed sculpture planned in the grip of the Russian Civil war, as a monument to the Revolution (read more about the tower here).
And after all that, there’s a wonderful shop to visit which sells unusual gifts, books, ceramics, jewellery and prints that you won’t find anywhere else (and are completely beautiful). You’ll find presents for everyone, and about five for yourself. Then, choose from one of 2 wonderful cafes: Kofra is a Norwich icon and has a café located right next to the shop, while the Modern Life Café has a monumental floor to ceiling window that makes it the perfect environment in which to enjoy lunch.