A day out at the Sainsbury Centre is just like being in a Sainsbury’s warehouse, except it’s all grey and there’s no Nectar card, just a huge stock of art.

This modernist building, the filming site of Avenger’s HQ in 2017, needs no superhero makeover, however. Designed in the Seventies by the unknown young architect, Norman Foster, it was his first public building and it has stood the test of time.

Located at the University of East Anglia (UEA), it forms the perfect backdrop to a breath-taking collection of art on a par with the Tate Modern. Amassed over the lifetime of Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, visitors can marvel at expertly arranged pieces collated according to geography, something that a traditional art gallery would not contemplate doing. This allows for a freer conversation to take place.


A day out at the Sainsbury Centre will start with the main area to the right of the reception.

Described as a ‘living room’ and comprising mostly 20th century paintings, the area is particularly good on works by Francis bacon, including his loose study of Van Gogh’s portrait; works by Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Alberto Giacometti, Degas (his bronze dancer statue) and Jacob Epstein are also featured.

The human story of creativity is told through 5,000 years of the most amazing feast for the eyes, well, it is a visual arts centre after all! Most of the artefacts are from east Asia, mostly Japan, or Africa. From Asia, you can admire a Shinto figure from the Heian period (11th century), or gaze at a figure of a crouching deer, 5th century BC, bronze. There is also a fantastic collection of modern ceramics and ancient sculptures from the Cyclades.

The tribal art, Nigerian Bronze, to South American ancient figures are to be found in the basement.


A day out at the Sainsbury Centre will also take in refreshments at The Modern Life cafe situated at the west end of the building.

This area offers views through a full-length fantastic glass window overlooking a superb Moore piece ‘Mother and Child’. Visitors can stroll through the Sculpture Walk which also includes another Henry Moore ‘Sleeping Shelters’ (1940). Outside there is also a reduced size tower based on a design by Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin.

Back inside, there are other exhibits to the left of reception, including new acquisitions, a display showing the background to Tatlin’s tower and its influence on, among other things, the Orbit sculpture by Anish Kapoor.

Access the Gormley sculptures by following the elevated walkway to the library, two are up on the roofs (as in Newcastle) but there is one outside the library itself – very popular for selfies!

Soothing, contemplative, beauteous, refined, accessible, relaxing. This is not an experience directed at the elite. It is a must for any visitor to Norwich and has been designed for everyman. A day out at the Sainsbury Centre will reboot your very soul.

Good free parking opposite and free entry to permanent exhibition.