Magnificent Obsessions – Sainsbury Centre, Norwich

obsessionsLike the smell of coffee, this show at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts in Norwich held more promise than it delivered…  It brought together elements of the personal collections of 10 artists, including rare and mass produced items, and displayed them alongside a small sample of their work. The idea was that as a visitor we could contemplate how these objects may have influenced the artists’ own output.

The artists included: Andy Warhol, Arman, Peter Blake, Edmund de Waal, Damien Hirst, Howard Hodgkin, Sol LeWitt, Martin Parr, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Pae White.

Pae White’s colourful collection of printed silk scarves greet you on entry. Displayed on ‘washing line’ wires they feel like  multi-layered Tibetan prayer flags and are an art installation in their own right. They wouldn’t have half so much impact folded away in a drawer!

This was, however, the high point of the exhibition for me… but don’t be put off, it is worth visiting and there is the added bonus of the Sainsbury Centre’s permanent collection which is full of treasures and joys.

But back to Magnificent Obsessions: some points of interest to me included the photographer Martin Parr’s collection of seaside postcards. I can definitely see the connection between these and Parr’s ironic and comical images of busy tourist sites where everyone is snapping away oblivious to the fact that Parr’s camera is pointed at them. And I hadn’t realised that such a thing as  news postcards existed…  These pictures of disaster and war scenes  helped to visually inform people at a time when newspaper photography was not highly evolved and before TV was invented.


Stuff chimp part of Damien Hirst’s collection (sketchbook)

Damien Hirst’s collection rather predictably includes stuffed animals (including a full size lion and a lamb with two bodies and seven legs) and a lot of skulls. I should add that these are collections of antique taxidermy and were not shot to order like poor old Cecil. Like my companion Stella, I did not enjoy viewing Hirst’s own work in the form of his ‘entomology piece’ which includes hundreds of butterflies and insects  pinned to a board and encased in glass. I found myself hoping they were not real but the tiny variations in those of the same species makes you realise they are. Of course the generation of feelings of shock and distaste and poor taste are often the purpose of Hirst’s work.

glass eyes

Sugimoto’s collection of glass eyes looking in all directions (sketchbook)


A tiny carved Netsuke from de Waal’s collection.. reminds me of Hokusai’s Fisherwoman being made love to by a giant octopus… I wonder if there is a Japanese folk legend?

Other items  that jumped out included photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto’s eerie collection of glass eyes all looking in different directions. And ceramic artist Edmund de Waal’s tiny carved Netsuke, kimono toggles.

The exhibition runs until 24 January 2016. More information here:


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