What would art be doing if it was set free from the glass case? That’s the question that Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre is asking visitors to consider as it launches a radical plan to transform how people interact with its collections.
To mark its 50th anniversary this year, the venue, which is part of the University of East Anglia, is aiming to “become the first museum in the world to recognise art as being alive”.
In a series of interventions being introduced across the whole site, visitors will be invited to meet living art in a different way to traditional galleries and museums and encouraged to treat works as they would another person rather than an inanimate object.
Visitors will be able to choose their own journey through the gallery spaces via three approaches: digital, analogue and experiential.
The new museum concept invites people to connect with art on an emotional level. Touch will be encouraged where possible: visitors can hug Henry Moore’s Mother and Child sculpture, which is what the artist originally intended. “Over time it will develop a patina but that’s part of the ageing process – art isn’t something frozen,” says the centre’s director Jago Cooper, who has led on the relaunch.
The concept started with the question, “if art wasn’t in a glass case in a museum, what would it want to be doing?”, says Cooper. Other interventions allow visitors to sway in a hammock while talking to a Giacometti portrait, or experience becoming a living exhibit on display in a showcase, with artworks peering in on them. People can also create their own works to display on plinths.
A digital tour available via the Smartify app will tell visitors where each work of art was born and its life story, emphasising that the museum is not the authority by offering a series of perspectives, including those of artists, academics and people with lived experience.
Using the whole site, the institution will run six-month artistic programmes focused on a single universal question, the first of which is “how do we adapt to a transforming world”?
To enable the galllery to be a fluid space, the venue introduced a “pay if and what you can” entrance model earlier this year, doing away with the cost distinction between temporary and permanent exhibitions.
“This frees up all of the art – it will be an open, dynamic and integrated landscape,” said Cooper.