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New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 1 October 1991



Undoubtedly the most publicised art event during recent months was the long‐awaited opening of the much‐debated extension to the National Gallery. Even when completed the Sainsbury Wing (named, of course, after the trio of grocers who donated the money for its erection) continued to generate controversy in architectural circles. To the uninvolved visitor the building seems to be enormously successful and the suspicion arises that a lot of adverse comments may have come from British architects disappointed that such a prestigious commission went to an American architect. But Robert Venturi and his principal partner, Denise Scott‐Brown, have cracked what had hitherto been seen as an insoluble problem, with style and vigour. Indeed, thanks to Prince Charles' notorious “carbuncle” intervention the National Gallery has now an extension of a quality not achievable (for a number of economic and aesthetic reasons) since the 1930s. This point is clearly emphasised by the illustrations of the structures previously proposed for the site reproduced in Colin Amery's A Celebration of Art and Architecture: The National Gallery Sainsbury Wing (ISBN 0 9476465 86 1, hardback, £40.00; ISBN 0 947645 87 X, paperback, £15.95). This includes not only a succinct history of the National Gallery and a survey of the various previous proposals for an extension, but also a section on “Construction Details” illustrated by some excellent paintings of work in progress, by Andrew Norris. Some of the paintings around which the Wing was designed are in Amery's book, but more are to be found in Michael Wilson's Guide to the Sainsbury Wing (ISBN 0 947645 94 2, paperback, £4.95). This takes the form of tours around the building and around the contents. These include a very large and elegant shop which has led to the immediate removal of the “temporary” shop from its previous dominating position within the National Gallery; a restaurant which allows the public a view of Trafalgar Square similar to that hitherto only available to users of the library in Canada House; and the Micro Gallery (sponsored by American Express) which brings the very latest touch‐screen computer technology right out to the public. With software developed by Cognitive Applications and editorial material generated by 21st Century Systems, this enables any visitor to search the whole of the National Gallery's catalogue and compile their own study notes. The system even has a facility for the display of explanations of “difficult” words used in the descriptions of the 2,000 painting involved, and, at print‐out time, there is even an explanation for the reasons why copyright restrictions prevent the reproduction of certain pictures. No wonder this facility has proved to be an immensely popular aspect of a building which already looks as though it has always been there.


Cheshire, D.F., Cornford, M., Bunch, A., Fleming, E. and Joseph, T. (1991), "Columns", New Library World, Vol. 92 No. 10.




Copyright © 1991, MCB UP Limited

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