Best Art Galleries in Birmingham by Elin Kaemmer-Bailey

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) first opened in 1885. The gallery, in Chamberlain square, is a very popular landmark in Birmingham. There are over 40 galleries to explore that display art, applied art, social history, archaeology and ethnography; all collections are of international importance. The art gallery is famous for its Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Birmingham Museums Trust (the largest independent museums trust in the United Kingdom) holds the most important collection of Pre-Raphaelite art anywhere in the world.

The gallery is currently hosting a major exhibition of over 80 modern and contemporary artworks by internationally renowned artists who explore themes of gender, sexuality and identity in art. This ground-breaking exhibition has been curated to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales (1967 Sexual Offences Act). The exhibition, which runs until the 15th of April, includes works by Andy Warhol, Sarah Lucas, Grayson Perry, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Steve McQueen, Richard Hamilton, Gillian Wearing, Eric Bainbridge, Marvin Gaye and many more. The exhibition has so far received plenty of positive critical attention for its new research into LGBT history and culture. BMAG is a real treasure trove which makes an outstanding contribution to the arts and culture scene, not only in Birmingham, but also on a national stage.

Ikon Gallery

Ikon is an internationally-acclaimed, contemporary art gallery housed in a stunning listed neo-gothic school building (designed by John Henry Chamberlain in 1877) in Brindleyplace. Established in 1964, Ikon works to simulate public interest in and understanding of contemporary visual art. The aesthetic ambition, according to the original prospectus: “Ikon is intended as an antithesis to exclusive art establishments and galleries … [it] has been formed because of the need for an accessible place where the exchange of visual ideas can become a familiar reality.”

A variety of highly-engaging media are represented in the gallery, including sound, film, mixed media, photography, painting, sculpture and installation. Highlights over recent years have included exhibitions of work by Thomas Bewick, Carmen Herrera, Julian Opie, Kitagawa Utamaro and Andy Warhol. The Ikon gallery is a unique and interactive gateway to understanding contemporary arts.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Nestled amongst the beautiful redbrick buildings of the University of Birmingham campus in Edgbaston, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts is a hidden gem for all Brummie art-lovers. In the 2005 Penguin Books publication Britain’s Best Museums and Galleries, the Barber Institute was one of only five galleries outside of London to receive five stars, for having “Outstanding collections of international significance.”

The listed Art Deco building, designed by Robert Atkinson in the 1930s, is a work of art itself. Inside, the spacious and elegant galleries boast rare works from a fantastically famous list of classical artists: Monet, Manet and Magritte, Renoir, Rubens, Rossetti and Rodin; Degas, Delacroix and Van Dyck – as well as Botticelli, Poussin, Turner, Gainsborough, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Bellows, Hodgkin and Auerbach. There is also one of the world’s largest coin collections! The Barber Institute has free admission for all, to both the permanent collections and ongoing exhibitions.

If you are not already impressed, the Barber Institute also features a popular concert hall and excellent educational facilities supported by the University. Study days delivered by Professors of Fine Art, Gallery Tours and Casual Sketching sessions, fun-filled family workshops and the monthly ‘Barber Book Club’ are only a small number of the exciting, informative and, often, free activities offered at this fantastic facility. The Barber Institute is a truly wonderful gallery; an opportunity for thorough immersion in an illustrious showcase of fine art.

Royal Birmingham Society of Artists

Established in 1821, the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity located just off St. Paul’s Square, near Birmingham’s historic jewellery quarter. In their galleries, the RBSA stage a variety of annual exhibitions of contemporary art with a strong focus on supporting emerging talents in the local community. The gallery hosts both high-profile and up-and-coming contemporary artists from the region.

Six themed exhibitions of designer-maker craft are held each year in the critically acclaimed ground floor Craft Gallery. The gallery also hosts a permanent collection of over 850 works of art which include paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, ceramics and jewellery. RBSA a;sp run a range of education and outreach programmes aiming to support schools in disadvantaged areas local to the Gallery. The RBSA does a fine job in promoting and supporting local talent in Birmingham on a national platform.

Article by Elin Kaemmer-Bailey for Grapevine Birmingham