Photo: Ikon Gallery in Birmingham's Brindley Place celebrates 40 years as an art gallery.
Joseph Norman visits the Ikon Gallery to talk to the people behind a 40 year success story.
Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, one of the UK’s leading contemporary art venues, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
To mark the occasion Ikon has reunited their four founding artists to put on Some of the Best Things in Life Happen Accidentally, an exhibition of work from the gallery’s early years, which runs until September 12.
Photo: David Prentice, Field Grid - Tycho B. 1967. Picture courtesy: Ikon/the artist
Ikon Gallery was originally conceived in 1963 and has had a number of different homes before arriving at its current residence, a refurbished old school building in the city’s revamped Brindley Place.
The gallery started life as a co-operative of volunteers and one of the founding artists was Bob Groves, who recalls the motivation of those early years. “There was a paucity of places for artists to exhibit in Birmingham. We thought there must be scope to do something in the second city.
Photo: Slyvani Merilion, Untitled (studies for Space Programme)1964. Picture courtesy Ikon/the artist.
“But we wanted to do something with a bit more spice and there was definitely a real need for something a bit more contemporary in Birmingham at the time.”
Ikon’s founders hoped it would become an alternative to what they felt were the stuffy and formal galleries of the time, and to provide the city with an accessible venue for contemporary art.
Photo: Trevor Denning, Brigitte Bardot. Oil on Canvas, 1969. Picture courtesy: Ikon/the artist.
The current Director Jonathan Watkins believes the gallery has remained true to those principles. “The original aim was to work with progressive art, work that is considered cutting edge, and making that work as accessible as possible," he said. "I believe that still rings true today.”
Bob Groves agrees. “Ikon today, like Birmingham, is virtually unrecognisable from when we started, but it does still follow our original concept. Still offering exposure to artists either local or national. It still has free admission, and as much as possible an open policy as to what it shows, that’s what we tried to do.”
Photo: Robert Groves, Katajatar. Silkscreen print, 1969. Picture courtesy: Ikon/the artist.
Some of the Best Things in Life Happen Accidentally features a mixture of collages, paintings, prints, multi-media works and sculptures, all from the gallery’s opening exhibitions.
As well as work by Bob Groves and the other founding artists; Jesse Bruton, Sylvani Merilion and David Prentice, it features other artists, such as John Salt, who also exhibited during those early years.
Photo: Dinah Prentice A4, 1963 Picture courtesy: Ikon Gallery/artist.
Jonathan Watkins believes that although much of the work is at least 40-years old it stands the test of time. “People can expect to see work that is remarkably fresh and vital," he explained. "It is very engaged with the art conversation of the 60s without being derivative. This work still feels relevant, it’s not site or time specific.”
He also believes the exhibition represents a very important chapter in Birmingham’s art history. “Apart from Ikon there is no other venue for contemporary art in Birmingham. For a city this size that’s crazy."
Photo: John Salt, Riviera. Oil on canvas, 1969. Picture courtesy Ikon/the artist.
“If they hadn’t set up the Ikon 40-years ago it would be a very sad situation for Birmingham.”
For Bob Groves the opening of the Ikon Gallery was vital. “Ikon has become fundamental for the arts in Birmingham," he said. "In fact I’d go as far as to say that without it Birmingham’s art scene would be a disaster.”
Some of the Best Things in Life Happen Accidentally – an exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of Ikon Gallery runs until September 12.