Birmingham is home to a thriving multicultural community, and this diversity produces a vibrant art scene with a dynamic assortment of galleries throughout the city. From artist-led exhibitions to internationally acclaimed contemporary art venues, here are the best places to experience Birmingham’s wealth of artistic excellence.
Situated in Chamberlain Square, at the heart of the city centre, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is the largest local authority museum service in England, and it is extremely impressive. This magnificent building, with its grand architecture and décor, houses many exhibitions, including a collection of ceramics, metalwork and jewellery, along with the world’s largest public display of pre-Raphaelite art. Its newest claim to fame is that it has recently acquired the Staffordshire Hoard; the greatest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. The museum and gallery is also home to a series of antiquities from Ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece, as well as a fascinating exhibition on Birmingham, its history, and its people. In addition to these permanent features, this important cultural institute hosts various temporary exhibitions from the giants of art history, plus tours, talks, and exciting events. Those that exhaust themselves exploring the museum’s cultural riches can relax and enjoy a cream tea in its very own Edwardian tearoom.
Labelled as one of the UK’s finest small European art galleries, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts is home to an outstanding collection, which has received five stars for having such a high level of international significance. Permanent exhibitions range from the 13th to the 20th century and include famous works by greats such as Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso and Rembrandt. The Barber Institute also boasts one of the world’s largest coin collections, especially of Byzantine and Roman coins. To accompany the permanent fixtures, there is a changing programme of major temporary exhibitions, as well as special events. This gallery is located on the picturesque campus of the University of Birmingham, inside the purpose built art deco museum and concert hall, which is a superb example of 1930’s British architecture.
Ikon is an internationally acclaimed gallery of contemporary art with its exhibitions including all forms of media such as sculpture, photography, film, installation, and sound. Ikon was established in 1965, with the objective of inspiring the public to engage with modern art. Education is the fundamental core of the gallery; its activities aim to provide the public with a better understanding of artworks. For example, as well as its exhibitions, workshops, tours, and seminars, the gallery also runs off-site educational activities such as Ikon Youth Programme, Black Country Voyages, and projects like A Real Birmingham Family. Housing the two floors of temporary exhibitions is a beautiful, neo-gothic, former boarding school constructed in 1877, which is now a Grade II listed building. The striking structure is a worthy setting for such a significant contribution to the innovation of contemporary art.
The RBSA is a gallery with a programme of constantly changing exhibitions. It is operated by the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists; an artist-led charity, which gives support to artists and promotes engagement with visual arts through a range of inclusive activities. The gallery is made up of three floors, the ground floor exhibits jewellery, ceramics, glass, and textiles in its contemporary Craft Gallery, plus works from RBSA members and associates. Then, the second and third floors display a range of exhibitions, which can be from individual artists or groups, and may encompass a variety of subjects. The RBSA also runs a number of art competitions each year that attract remarkable talent from both the UK and elsewhere, the gallery then holds prize exhibitions to reward artists and give them a platform to showcase their work.
An unsuspecting street near Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter hides St. Pauls Gallery – an impressive commercial gallery and the world’s largest retailer of signed music related art. In addition to a gallery full to the brim with album artwork, photography, vinyl covers, and sculptures, St. Pauls also boasts a huge online collection available to buyers worldwide. Music enthusiasts and fans of greats such as David Bowie, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones will enjoy browsing this extensive display of works, the majority of which are hand signed by legendary musicians. Collectors will marvel at the fantastic investment opportunities to be found in this gallery, with rare limited edition print photographs, as well as a collection of limited edition fine art from the likes of David Hockney, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Art and music lovers alike will appreciate this hidden treasure of Birmingham.
With an exclusive range of galleries in locations throughout the UK, Whitewall offers art lovers a unique portfolio of high quality fine art. Birmingham’s Whitewall showcases the character and variety of the contemporary art scene within a shiny, chic, high-class gallery, all whilst maintaining a friendly atmosphere that welcomes buyers and viewers alike. Often, the gallery hosts ‘meet and greet’ events, which allow collectors a rare opportunity to meet artists and be introduced to their new collections, often including the chance for guests to view artwork that is created by the artists exclusively for these specific events.
Castle’s internationally renowned galleries are also spread across England, Scotland, and Wales, with their Birmingham outlet being located inside the International Convention Centre. Operating for over two decades, making it one of the longest-standing commercial art galleries in the city, it has displayed work from local, Midlands artists like Keith Maiden and Jon Jones, plus permanent exhibitions by those such as Bob Dylan and Salvador Dalí. Staff are friendly and enthusiastic here, and regardless of whether visitors want to purchase or simply just look around, guests in this gallery are welcomed to view a fantastic collection of fine art at their leisure.
Photography by Stuart Whipps. | Courtesy of Samara Scott and Eastside Projects
Located alongside the Grand Union Canal in Digbeth, Minerva Works is a small industrial estate comprised of 21 units. With such a range of hugely talented artistic tenants all packed into one place, Minerva works constitutes a rich and truly unique part of Birmingham’s art culture. Minerva’s residents include:
Centrala: a multifunctional space, run by the Polish Expatriates Association, where social support meets art.
Grand Union: a contemporary art gallery that supports the development of artists by providing high quality workspaces. Run by a small group of artists and curators this gallery has welcomed around 10,000 visitors since its opening five years ago.
Home for Waifs and Strays: a live art initiative created in order to build an accessible and progressive home for Birmingham live art, and form connections between Birmingham live artists and others around the world.
Stryx: a studio and exhibition space formed and cultivated by a group of individual Fine Art graduates in 2012, who work together in order to create and develop artistic collaborations regionally and nationally, as well as to host a range of projects and events.
Vivid Projects: the multifunctional project space of Vivid collaborative agency was formerly established as Birmingham Centre for Media Arts. Based in a former warehouse, Vivid projects explores many forms of arts practice, including live art, music and digital media.
Eastside Projects is an artist-run space sporting the claim that they do not ‘make art for the public’, but that they are ‘the public that makes art.’ In partnership with Birmingham City University this free gallery commissions, creates and exhibits experimental contemporary art practices, allowing artists and curators to research, produce and thrive. Established in 2008, the gallery’s aim is described as collaboratively working towards change and doing so in order to support the cultural growth of Birmingham. As well as a programme of high-profile exhibitions and events, the gallery is also home to many long-term artworks, many of which are elements from past exhibitions that have remained to form part of the gallery. For example, ‘Black Pleasure’, a large, striking, wooden structure originally designed by Heather and Ivan Morrison for the Welsh Pavilion, was adapted for Eastside Projects and is now used as a communal office and event space; allowing the gallery to become a living artwork in itself.