The Sainsbury Wing

Since the National Gallery itself is unlikely to feel able to respond to the attached criticism of its current plans, it is perhaps worth making some comments in defence of them (of course, I am not impartial).

Hewitt is correct that the key is circulation. The system of circulation for most of the National Gallery’s history was a circuit from the original entrance, starting with Italian paintings to the west and ending with nineteenth-century French painting to the east. There was a clear logic relating to national schools, which was a nineteenth-century taxonomy. The clarity of this system of circulation was complicated by the addition of an asymmetric new wing at the back (look at the ground plan) by the Property Services Agency in the 1970s and then further complicated by the addition of the Sainsbury Wing in 1991 which sits slightly separately and at an angle to the original building, as Hewitt correctly points out.

It seems to me that there is a perfectly good architectural and art historical logic to treating the Sainsbury Wing entrance as the main entrance, even if it wasn’t designed to be. It is much larger and more spacious than the original Wilkins Building entrance and more disabled accessible. But to make it the main entrance requires some degree of adaptation of the Sainsbury Wing to accommodate the huge number of visitors. This is what Annabelle Selldorf has been hired to do through a process of international competition.

It creates a more linear route through the collection, starting with fourteenth-century Italy in the west and ending with nineteenth-century France (and coffee) in the east. The changes she has proposed involve some degree of change to the entrance vestibule, giving it more height, putting the cloakroom downstairs, and getting rid of the bookshop which made the Sainsbury Wing entrance a bit cramped.

But there is no change whatsoever to the main floor galleries which have been recently and beautifully restored. So, it looks to me to be pretty – and rightly – respectful of Venturi and Scott Brown’s original, although I know strict conservationists and possibly Denise Scott Brown herself may not agree.

https://www.archdaily.com/985449/in-london-a-venturi-scott-brown-masterpiece-is-threatened

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3 thoughts on “The Sainsbury Wing

  1. bendorgrosvenor says:

    All this time and money on entrances! The history of our institutions is run through with endless attempts to get it right, each success deemed a failure within one or two generations. Such tinkering increasingly feels absurd in a digital age, when people make decisions on whether to enter well in advance of atually approaching the doors. I wonder how much better our museums would be, if they spent as much time on the galleries and collections, as they do on entrances?

    • But, Bendor, they have also re-hung the collection rather beautifully (nobody seems to have commented) and are planning to do so again in 2024, so can hardly be regarded as negligent of their core responsibilities. Charles

      • bendorgrosvenor says:

        Oh, my comment was not directed at the NG per se, which I think is doing splendidly, rather, the mania for flashy entrances in the sector (the demand for which has necessitated the entire closure of another institution very nearby).

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