The best art exhibitions to see in the Midlands in 2015

By Richard Moss | 13 October 2015 | Updated: 03 November 2015

From Sun Ra in Notts to Fiona Banner in Brum, we bring you our selection of the best Midlands exhibitions for 2015

East Midlands

video still showing man in leather waistcoat and shorts with microphone and man in pink zebra print against a pink orange and gold glitter background
Opaque, 2014. Installation with super 16mm. Performance: Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Werner Hirsch.
At Nottingham Contemporary they have ushered in their autumn/winter season with an intriguing quartet of exhibitions under the collective theme of  (until December 31).

Sun Ra (1914-1993): The Cosmo Man is the first exhibition to attempt to present the legendary and almost mythic interstellar jazz leader as a “total artist” with artwork, writings, philosophies and, of course, out there jazz music.

Rana Hamadeh: The Fugitive Image is the last in a series of “Alien Encounters” from an artist who originally took inspiration from Sun Ra’s cult film, Space is the Place, for a pretty far out exploration of Arabness. For this final edition she revisits the story of the infamous serial killer sisters Raya and Sakina, the first women to be sentenced to death by a legal court in the modern history of Egypt.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz: In Memoriam to Identity is an excavation of forgotten “queer” moments through films and photographic imagery, while Danai Anesiadou: "Don’t commit suicide just because you are afraid of death" is a sculptural melange and one-off performance referencing classical myths, pop culture and contemporary politics.

Nottingham Castle have P.H. Emerson: Presented to the Author (November 21 2015 – February 7 2016) - a fascinating journey into the world of an early photographer whose shots vividly captured the Victorian rural world.

The University of Nottingham's public arts centre and museum, Lakeside Arts has (November 25 2015 – February 28 2016) which takes up the fascinating story of the late sculptor’s many commissions for public buildings, urban environments and sacred spaces.

Not to be outdone, the Bonington Gallery at Nottingham Trent University has (November 6 – December 11), in which a group of contemporary artists explore the role that photography and moving image play in our interpretation, perception and understanding of the architectural environment.

At Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Common Treasury (until February 21) explores how Derby’s collections have grown over 150 years and how the museum has perceived its role in the city - and more importantly, what the public has expected of it. You get to see some stunning archaeological finds and natural history specimens together with some great artworks along the way.

Leicester’s New Walk Museum and Art Gallery traces the history of Gujarat and Mumbai as age-old centres of trade and migration, focusing on their remarkable links with Britain in India’s Gateway: Gujarat, Mumbai & Britain (October 17 2015 - February 21 2016)

Going further east into Lincolnshire, 20:21 in Scunthorpe has a typically adventurous and playful exhibition in AniMotion (October 24 – January 9). A celebration of the diverse world of animation the show inlcudes new commissions including an innovative installation from Mark Hewis, which combines time-lapse animation of plant-life. There's also a giant, slow motion zoetrope and Space Cadet’s colourful projections onto a giant Day of the Dead inspired inflatable skull.

Birmingham and the West Midlands

At Birmingham’s home of contemporary art, IKON (until January 17 2016) is a comprehensive overview of the Brit-artist who first came to prominence in the 1990s with her filmic wordscapes.

As well as key works including The Nam, her 1,000 page reworking of Vietnam war films, the show features recent works like Heart of Darkness for which Banner commissioned a magnum photographer to photograph London’s financial district as if it were an Apocalypse Now-style war zone.

Films, sculptures, photographs revealing some of the artist’s pet subjects make this a great opportunity to explore one of the more interesting artists of the Brit-pack era.

And when you’re passing through the ground floor reception you can offload some thoughts via the Birmingham branch of Missing Post Office UK by Japanese artist Saya Kubota (until December 22). The idea is to just offload with pen and paper but it might be wise not to put your name to them as they may feature in an exhibition at the Daiwa Foundation in London next year (opening January).

a painting of an angel and cherubs floating across the sky by ER Hughes
E.R. Hughes, Night with her Train of Stars© Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
At BMAG (October 17 2015 – February 21 2016) focuses on the dream-filled canvasses of a lesser known artist from the heart of the Pre-Raphaelite circle.

E.R. Hughes was the cousin of Arthur Hughes who worked for a time in the studio of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his fantastically escapist Night and her Train of Stars is a star piece in BMAG’s world renowned Pre-Raphaelite collection.

You might also want to make time to catch the wonderful 20th-century British studio ceramics featured in the  (until December 31), which brings together 78 studio ceramics made by 29 potters working in England and Wales during the 20th century.

If you really want to immerse yourself in contemporary practice then you could do worse than an afternoon mooching around the RBSA Gallery, which has a slew of exhibitions featuring the work of members of the Royal Birmingham society of Artists.

Among the individual showcases of everything from ceramics to painting you will find group shows like  (until January 16) which puts the focuses on designer-makers inspired by textures.

At Birmingham Library (until January 10) is an installation created around a series of 12 crime scene negatives made for Birmingham City Police.

Colour image of a magnified crushed moth
Mat Collishaw, Insecticide 24, 2008, c-type photograph, 182 x 182 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Blain l Southern. © Mat Collishaw
Mr Collishaw has been a busy boy in the Midlands; he crops up at , Walsall where they have given over two floors to the beauty and deathly decay of his photographs, sculptures and installations (until January 10 2016).

Elsewhere the gallery has (until January 24 2016) which explores Jacob Epstein’s famous dismantling of his rock drill sculpture during the First World War. The show features artworks from Tate, The British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Birmingham Museums Trust.

On floors 1 and 2 they feature highlights of a recent bequest from Clive Beardsmore (also until January 24). Among the 200 artworks are treasures by the likes of Edward Bawden, John Bratby, Graham Sutherland and Keith Vaughan.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery has Robert Davies’ atmospheric film, Of Time and the Railway (until December 5) which follows the railway journey between Birmingham and Aberystwyth over the course of a day.

Over at The Herbert Museum Art Gallery in Coventry there's a chance to catch the V&A Museum of Childhood touring exhibition  (until January 17) which explores the role of war in childhood play and strategic games from the 1800s to the present day. As well as featuring a haul of action figures, tin toys and toy soldiers the exhibition examines this often controversial childhood fascination with war through a series of intriguing and immersive activities   

At Compton Verney, near Warwick,  (until December 13) is an artistic deconstruction of the periodic table – or at least the elements drawn from it (neon, uranium, gold, silver, carbon, iron, copper, mercury, cobalt, aluminium, sulphur, bronze, tin, lead, calcium) and the ways artists have used them and their cultural meanings in their art.

Eduardo Paolozzi, Joseph Beuys, Joseph Wright of Derby, John Constable, Antony Gormley, Cornelia Parker, Marc Quinn, Lucy Skaer, Danny Lane, Bill Woodrow, Maria Lalic, Fiona Banner, Thomas Heatherwick, David Nash, and Roger Hiorns are some of the artists unpacking this seemingly complex idea to highly entertaining effect.


There are some interesting exhibitions to be found at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery this autumn including the absorbing (until January 10) which surveys a century of soldiering via the lenses of soldier photographers.

artists book, one page showing 12 photographs of shrewsbury on a gold background, the other covered in gold paint
Jet Rotmans, Shrewsbury in Gold© Jet Rotmans
(until December 13) brings the work of the Dutch artist  to the gallery for an abstract exploration of Shrewsbury and the Dutch town Zutphen via her favourite medium of the artist’s book.

(until December 18) is a new exhibition at the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron featuring a series of major sculptures made from machinery parts by Tony Cragg as part of a major installation of artworks by the likes of Richard Long, Michael Landy, Jeremy Deller, Clare Mitten, Stuart Whipps and others - all of them responding to the post industrial world and the heritage of the 'cradle of the industrial revolution'.


A feast of shows awaits at the Potteries Museums and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent including (until February 7) in which domestic ceramics mutate into subversive comments on our life and times.

There’s more ceramics in the heartening (until March 27 2016) which looks at the famous local ceramics collection recently saved for the nation by the Art Fund and gifted to the museum.  

Street scene by Lowry showing high street in the foreground with industrial area behind
Coming from the Mill Pastel c 1917© The Lowry Collection, Salford
(until January 10 2016) looks at the work of L.S Lowry and his local counterpart Arthur Berry – two painters who captured the local lives of the urban industrial poor. (also until January 10 2016) is the ICA exhibition exploring the history of Arab pop culture through posters, notebooks, diaries and book covers - as well as film and video.

More Culture24 2015 exhibition guides:

The best art exhibitions to see in London in 2015

The best art exhibitions to see in The South East of England during 2015

The best exhibitions to see in The South West of England during 2015

The best art exhibitions to see in Scotland in 2015

The best art exhibitions to see in The North of England during 2015

The best art exhibitions to see in Wales in 2015

The best art exhibitions to see in the East of England in 2015

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