Nine Minutes with Bruce Boucher, Director, Sir John Soane’s Museum

Spring 2017 has seen the arrival of a spectacular new exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Drawn from Life,’ an exhibition of new works by artist Marc Quinn is a series of ethereal fragmentary sculptures, made in collaboration with his partner, a dancer, which have been placed among the multiple antique casts and sculptures that fill the museum.

The new work takes the iconographic language of the historical artefact and reveals its resonance with contemporary life. Quinn has long been inspired by Sir John Soane’s collection of historic fragments and ‘Drawn from Life’ will explore Quinn’s fascination with the subject and give insight into the artist’s affinity with Soane’s aesthetic and interests.

Further to physically opening up the museum over the past seven years through an extensive restoration, the museum embarks on a new programme to build upon the ethos and values of its founder.

After Nyne’s Editor Claire Meadows went to meet with the museum’s director Bruce Boucher to find out all about the relaunch of this fascinating museum and hear more about the Marc Quinn Project.

Bruce, congratulations on the launch of the new restored museum. When attempting a restoration of this scope, where do you start?

I arrived towards the end of the process, which was seven years in the making, although some of the research used to help us complete the project began in the 1980s. It was a team effort, led by our Deputy Director, who is steeped in the history of the building and its collection. Fortunately, John Soane kept meticulous inventories of all objects in the collection and had watercolours made of each room which were guideposts for the restoration. The crucial decision however – the final piece of the jigsaw to allow the process to begin – was to abolish having a live-in guard, which freed up space to move offices out of the museum proper. That allowed former office spaces to revert back to their status during Soane’s lifetime.

What was your favourite part of the restorations project?

I think the Private Apartments are a brilliant recreation of the area where Soane and his wife lived as well as where he kept his Model Room. Putting it all back together was a brilliant piece of detective work on the part of my colleagues. And seeing our visitors reactions to these spaces on our daily tours is always wonderful.

What’s new?

We essentially have become 30% bigger. This includes the restored spaces Soane created – the Catacombs, the private apartments already mentioned, the Regency kitchens – but we’ve also created new facilities by expanding into adjacent buildings. We now have two dedicated temporary exhibition spaces, a shop, and for the first time in our history we have full step-free access which we are very proud of for a building like ours.

Were there any hair-raising moments during the restoration?

Not that I am aware of, but my colleagues may have kept them from me!

Tell us about the Marc Quinn: Drawn from Life project.

It is an exciting joint project with a major contemporary artist. Quinn’s twelve sculptures are fragmentary casts of the artist and his muse, and they present the nature of love in all its glory and ambiguity. The works are wonderful interlocutors for our collection. Perhaps what surprises most people is that we have managed to find room to fit them all in amongst our thousands of objects. But we have!

Why did you choose Marc Quinn?

Marc has always been a fan of the museum, and the idea came about jointly. From our first meeting, I could tell that he understood Soane and his collection. I think we all felt it was a refreshing initiative but one which embraced the spirit of Sir John Soane.

This is just the start a series of exhibitions lined up to engage with the collection. Can you tell us who else is going to be involved?

Soane wanted his astonishing collection to inspire, and its breadth and depth means that it appeals as much to a contemporary artist, as an architectural historian or the curious first-time visitor. We want a number of contemporary creatives – from across the disciplines – to engage with this remarkable collection in their own very personal way and we will do this as when the opportunity arises with projects that embrace the Soane spirit of stoking debate. Watch this space is all I can say!

What do you think is the essence of the Soane Museum?

The Soane is the historic house museum, par excellence! It is evocative of one man’s obsession with collecting and creating a museum where people could see, and think, and feel in new ways. It is theatrical, but also an object lesson in the ingenious manipulation of space and light.

What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

In addition to Quinn, we shall have a major exhibition about our sarcophagus of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, which was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1817 – exactly 200 years ago – by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Battista Belzoni. It’s a rollicking tale, and its acquisition became one of the Museum’s most popular objects.

Marc Quinn | Drawn From Life | Until September 23rd

Sir John Soane’s Museum | 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields | London

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