A hall of unseen historic artefacts and a gallery of hidden curiosities, devoted to the sculptor known as “the Henry Moore of the late 18th and 19th centuries” and used in the blockbuster film Inception, are about to reopen to the public at University College London.
The Flaxman Gallery, named after John Flaxman, the artist best-known for his memorial to Lord Nelson at St Paul’s, will allow sculpture admirers to revisit his internationally renowned 19th century studio installations, donated to the institution by his family two decades after his death in 1826.
Below it, the radically transformed Octagon Gallery will open with Model Translations, a display of precious artefacts covering art, anthropology, archaeology, engineering and other encounters between scholars and the natural environment.
Both spaces have been closed to the public during a nine-month building process.
“It’s extremely satisfying to see such prominent areas of the university being brought back to life,” observed William Deakins, of designers Burwell Deakins Architects, who said the move would “reaffirm the galleries as the cultural heart of the university.”
“By visually linking the two galleries, it has animated both spaces whilst also helping visitors orientate themselves in the building.”
Sally MacDonald, of the university, said the Octagon’s reimagined cases – passed by thousands of students en route to the main library – would showcase collections students were unaware of.
“We hope that this bright and surprising space will help spark new ideas about cross disciplinary working," she added.
“In the future we will be holding competitions to choose new themes for exhibitions with research students able to submit entries.
"The challenging, experimental atmosphere of the galleries reflects UCL’s values and atmosphere.
“The new format of the two galleries means students will be able to enjoy them in new ways, looking down from above or up from below as well as within the spaces themselves.”
The Flaxman Gallery is covered by the interior of the Wilkins Building’s dome. Flaxman’s early 19th century plaster study, St Michael Overcoming Satan, has been positioned on a glass plinth above a circular opening.
It is flanked by reliefs and natural light in a design aiming to provide new perspectives on Flaxman’s creations.
- Reopens on November 27 2012.