Birmingham's Ikon Gallery to celebrate 50 years with major exhibition programme

By Culture24 Reporter | 20 November 2013

Birmingham's Ikon Gallery will celebrate 50 years of innovation and artistic evolution by inviting some of the country's finest artists to take part in an exciting exhibition programme

A photo of a large red brick building in a city centre
Ikon moved to its current home, at Brindleyplace, in 1998© Courtesy Ikon
From a kiosk in Birmingham’s Bullring to the Brindleyplace home it has turned into one of the most dependably intriguing exhibition spaces in Britain, Ikon will return to its roots for its 50th year. John Salt, the artist whose photorealist paintings formed the embryonic gallery’s first show in 1965, will be back in February – the first of five artists taking to the Tower Room, each representing a decade of Ikon’s past as part of the Ikon Ikons series.

Of the other Ikons, Ian Emes preceded his work with Pink Floyd with a film animation in 1973, and Cornelia Parker worked with Ikon throughout the late 1980s. Yinka Shonibare was awarded his MBE and shortlisted for the Turner Prize five years after his sculptures and installations visited the Midlands in 1999, while Julian Opie – the man behind portraits of Blur and Bryan Adams – demonstrated his inimitably high-impact sculptures in 2001.

Salt, though, can claim the distinction of being a part of the original team behind Ikon, led by Angus and Midge Skene. “We had a meeting at Midge and Angus’ in order to decide on a name for the organisation,” says Robert Groves, one of four artists officially listed as a founder of Ikon, alongside Jesse Bruton, Sylvani Merilion and David Prentice.

“We all turned up with suggestions, such as ‘New Birmingham Gallery’ and ‘Image’. I was particularly interested in Russian or Greek – eastern orthodox – ikons, and thought, well, ‘Ikon’ is a lovely word.”

Groves’ vision was artistically well-conceived. “It means image, and you get a four-letter word that divides beautifully geometrically and was splendid in all directions,” he explains.

“It was also appropriate because it suggested moving images. When I mooted it the others said, ‘Oh no, no, really, no – not having any of that.’ After a few more beers everyone else’s suggestions were shot down and they said, ‘oh well, I suppose it will have to be Ikon then.”

The cohesion of this co-operative of volunteers was unburdened by their initial compromise. They wanted Ikon to be a “gallery without walls”, the headquarters for a fluid programme which would tour to non-art venues, and their early bases were somewhat improvised: an octagonal glass-walled kiosk in the newly-built Bullring served them for three years, then a decommissioned mortuary in nearby Swallow Street.

During the strikes, sit-ins, unrest and demonstrations of the 1970s, Ikon flourished in a way which would achieve national importance. Director Simon Chapman’s programme ranged from painterly abstraction to diverse photography, overseeing moves to a shopping centre unit above New Street Station and new premises in John Bright Street.

The 1980s were even more creatively broad for the gallery: post-feminism, post-structuralism and post-colonialism, Dada, installations and Postmodernism all played their part, with Susan Hiller, Sean Scully and Helen Chadwick among the visiting practitioners. But it took until 1998, under Elizabeth MacGregor, the gallery’s director from 1989 to 1999, for the gallery to move to its current home at the Oozells Street School building in Brindleyplace.

MacGregor established Ikon as a venue for innovative artists across a range of media – Fiona Banner, Antony Gormley and Mark Wallinger joined Shonibare, Eva Rothschild and more. And inclusivity has been key for Jonathan Watkins, who has presided over the programme since the turn of the century, targeting an “Ikon-led” ethos in response to a “global art conversation”.

A burgeoning, inventive off-site programme, biennials and in-depth solo projects continue to impress and inspire at a gallery which can look back with pride.

Ikon’s 2014 programme highlights:

David Tremlett – 3 Drawing Rooms
December 4 2013 – April 21 2014

Tremlett is best known for his large-scale site-specific wall drawings of geometric arrangements, created in pastel pigment applied by hand on architectural surfaces.

Jamal Penjweny
February 19 – April 21

An emerging artist from Iraqi Kursdistan, Penjweny’s series, Saddam is Here, consists of 12 images of Iraqi people in familiar surroundings, each holding a life-size picture of Saddam Hussein’s face in front of their own.

Michel François
April 30 – June 22

The most comprehensive UK exhibition to date of the Belgian artist, comprising sculpture, film, paintings, prints and photography. Visitors to Ikon will encounter an installation of numerous pieces to be read as a whole, integrated with the entire building.

Ikon 1980s
July 2 – August 31

A comprehensive selection of paintings, sculpture, installation, film and photography, highlighting the rise of postmodernism and the increasing popularity of installation. Artists include Cornelia Parker, Vanley Burke, Helen Chadwick and Susan Hiller.

Lee Bul
September 10 – November 9

Early drawings, photographs, video and more sculptural pieces from the acclaimed Korean artist, including a newly-commissioned suspended sculpture dripping with an excess of crystalline shapes and glass beads. Bull sees the piece as a reflection of the failings of utopian optimism.

Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year 2013: Imran Qureshi
November 19 2014 – January 25 2015

A student of Lahore’s National College of Arts with a major in miniature painting, Qureshi is considered one of the most important contemporary artists on the Subcontinent, infusing his works with personal observations on current affairs in Pakistan.

Ikon Icons

John Salt
February 19 – April 21

Ian Emes
April 30 – June 22

Cornelia Parker
July 2 – August 31

Yinka Shonibare
September 10 – November 9

Julian Opie
November 19 2014 – January 25 2015

Ikon Off-site – Gillian Wearing: A Real Birmingham Family

During 2014, Ikon will unveil a new sculpture by Gillian Wearing, positioned outside the Library of Birmingham. Donations can be made via Ikon’s website.

You might also like:

Gillian Wearing and Ikon Gallery search for A Real Birmingham Family at The Mailbox

Birmingham residents debut in drawing show along with European neighbours

From frozen gas pipes to Harold Wilson: The history of the Library of Birmingham

A photo of a large art gallery with white walls and small metallic parts on the floors
Cornelia Parker, Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988). Installation view© Courtesy Cornelia Parker / Ikon
A photo of four dancing figures supplanted on the front of blocks of black and white
Ian Emes, French Window (1973). Video still© Courtesy Ian Emes / Ikon
An image of a small circle in which a man's face can be seen against a yellow backdrop
Imran Qureshi, Self-Portrait (2009). Gold lead and gouache on wasli paper© Courtesy Imran Qureshi / Ikon
A photo of an Indian family of two young women holding baby boys in an outdoor space
The Jones Family will be turned into a sculpture outside the Library of Birmingham© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Ikon
A black and white photo of loads of people jumping into an outdoor swimming pool
Michel Francois, A Jump in Cuba (1996)© Courtesy Michel Francois / Ikon
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