Leave the Capital! The best exhibitions to see in the Midlands in 2016

By Richard Moss | 30 December 2015 | Updated: 31 March 2016

The best exhibitions to see in the Midlands in 2016 - Culture24's constantly updated guide throughout the year

a photo of a group of matchboxes with a composite image of the rolling stones on them.
OHO/Marko Pogačnik, Rolling Stones Matchboxes. 1968.© Marinko Sudac Collection
At Nottingham Contemporary, Turner Prize winning (March 19 – June 26) comes to the gallery for his biggest UK exhibition to date. Focusing on industry, the exhibition includes artworks previously unseen in Britain as well as a new piece conceived in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University.

At the University of Nottingham's public arts centre and museum, Lakeside Arts, you can catch (April 21 - June 3), a major exhibition organised to coincide with the publication of a new Jones monograph. A beautiful painting show with some 60 works from throughout Jones’ life, it's a timely reassessment of one of the most imaginative artists of his era.

At Nottingham Castle, summer sees the arrival of  (July 30 –  October 9), which in just ten drawings manages to encapsulate the genius of the renaissance polymath.

Derby: Wright of Derby

a painting of a volcano erupting
Vesuvius in Eruption, Joseph Wright of Derby, c.1774, gouache on paper© Derby Museums Trust
At Derby Museum and Art Gallery, the big spring show turns the attention to the gallery’s defining artist in  (March 18 – June 12), a look at the formative period in Wright of Derby’s life, alongside the experiences of his fellow Derbeians abroad.

Among the paintings and drawings from Derby’s own impressive collection are treasures gathered from public and private collections in Derbyshire and beyond.

Leicester: Arts and Crafts pioneer

Leicester’s New Walk Museum and Art Gallery explores the life and work of the Leicester-based artist Mary Annie Sloane (1867-1961).  (March 25 – July 3) brings together many previously unseen artworks from private family collections covering her early Leicester period and later life in London, when she became a friend of the Morris family and a key member of the Arts and Crafts movement. 

Over at The Collection, (February 27 – April 17) explores the vast history of the human figure in art, drawing on examples from the likes of Moore, Hepworth, Lowry and Hockney.

At contemporary visual art centre 20-21 up in Scunthorpe, group exhibition (until April 3) brings together emerging makers and established artists who work with the internet as a theme. The collaborative theory of Web 2.0 is the exhibition’s central theme, and the show features participatory artworks created by a web audience.

Alongside this, Tabitha Moses’ poignant exhibition (until May 14) gives an insight into the artist’s experience of IVF and consists of three hand-stitched hospital robes symbolising three women’s individual journeys through the treatment. With this, In Vitro charts two failed attempts of the fertility procedure, and Bride and Groom, created by Moses during residence at 20-21 in 2007, make a return to the gallery.

The Devon Guild of Craftsmen’s (February 27 – April 23) sees artists and makers create work with prehistory and ancient past as a uniting theme. The exhibition unites established artists working in metal, textile, ceramics, glass and resin.

photograph of pieces of jewellery in geometric patterns
© Xiang Dia
Sticking on the craft theme, the National Centre for Craft and Design has (February 27 – April 24), which celebrates work made my Chinese jewellers and metalsmiths who have embraced western aesthetics from their studies.

Sculpture and installation artist Anton Alvarez has developed an autonomous sculpture manufacturing system. In (March 19 – June 5), the machine will make a sculpture a day in the gallery, challenging the role of the sculptor and the curator in this self-sufficient show.

May sees a selection of crafters, makers and artists fill the gallery with paper creations which push the boundaries of the usually flat, two dimensional medium to create tactile and unexpected 3D objects. (May 14 – June 26), the artists use techniques such as pulping, weaving and cutting to create fabrics, vessels and even electronics.

Birmingham: Janet Mendelsohn at IKON - Shakespeare in the Library

A black and white photograph of a young woman staring thoughtfully out of a window
Janet Mendelsohn, Kathleen© Courtesy Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections, University of Birmingham.
At Birmingham’s home of contemporary art, IKON, there's (January 27 – April 3) the largest exhibition to date of photographs by American academic and documentary filmmaker Janet Mendelsohn (b. 1943).

Mendelsohn’s archive of over 3,000 photographs, taken predominately in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham and now held by the University of Birmingham are unique in the way they capture a time of great social change. The exhibition focuses in particular on a sex worker called Kathleen – providing a moving insight into a life in a community in an acute state of flux.

Alongside, IKON has a video installation by acclaimed Vietnamese artist (January 27 –  April 3). Organised in collaboration with public art pioneers, Artangel, the artwork features filmed footage, staged scenarios and animated sequences based on picturesque 19th century depictions of a cluster of islands off the coast of Peru, rich in guano, a powerful fertilizer.

photograph of red abstract sculpture
New Art West Midlands - Too Consume, 2015, by Corey Whyte© the artist
At Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, (February 12 – May 15) showcases recent graduates from local art schools, comprising refreshing and varied work from emerging artists working in photography, sculpture and painting.

The unmissable show this year is (May 28 – September 4), an innovative exhibition of work from some of history’s most celebrated portraiture artists. Curated by artist John Stezaker, the exhibition explores theme of physical and metaphorical turning in portraiture, and also includes new photographic collages by Stezaker, in response to the exhibition’s theme.

If you want to immerse yourself in contemporary practice produced by local artists 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 are two open exhibition shows (March 9 - April 9) and (May 4 - June 4). Open to anyone working in the region, both shows draw a great variety of work from contemporary local artists.

In the 17th century portraiture was used as a symbol of wealth and power, utilised by influential and wealthy people to affirm their status of importance. At the Barber Institute, (until May 15) brings to light portraits from the Barber Institute collection which were commissioned by royalty, politicians and artists.

The gallery’s must-see spring show has to be (until May 8), a terrific departure from the gallery’s usual painting shows featuring the representational art of the masters and the impressionists. Bringing together works from some of the most recognisable painters of the 20th Century, this lively show defines the modern art era.

For a little escapism, (until June 12) celebrates nature in art, bringing together a diverse collection of prints and drawings united by the theme of man’s relationship with trees.

West Midlands

a side by side image of a an anti-apartheid poster showing a black and white face intertwined and a colourful image of Fidel Castro raising a rifle
Against Apartheid poster by by Mountain and Molehill (design partnership of Ken Sprague and Ray Bernard), Great Britain, 1960-1970 and Tenth Anniversary of the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution Poster by René Mountain and Molehill and Mederos; Cuba, 1969. Courtesy V&A
Big Ceramics in Wolverhampton - Picasso at Compton Verney

Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s (January 30- April 10) presents a century of posters agitating for political change.

(February 20 - May 28)
will feature some pretty big pots that will “challenge expectations of the clay object” and celebrate the drive, creativity and skill that it takes to produce ceramics of monumental size.

(February 27 – May 7) is a series of video recordings made over six years in the hotels of six different countries charting the War on Terror of the Bush/Blair years and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel/Palestine.

Almost into spring and (March 12 - May 14) combines imagery and objects from a range of old and new sources such as encyclopaedias, magazines, books and second-hand stores for an exploration of pre-existing ideas around gender and the home.

painted diptych showing woman reclining on a sun lounger and burnt-out abstract image
Laura Lancaster, Montage V, 2015, oil on linen, 260 x 230cm© Courtesy of the artist and Workplace Gallery Gateshead/London. Photo: John David Lawson.
Another artist who scours the second-hand shops for inspiration is (until May 8), she’s exhibiting her paintings based on forgotten family photos at The New Art Gallery Walsall. The exhibition brings together a selection of her pieces, all depicting figures and scenes from anonymous snapshots and home movies.

Alongside, (until May 8) brings together 30 paintings by the influential Belgian artist whose work is strongly influenced by family memories and the effects of World War Two and its aftermath.

While you’re there be sure to check out (until February 11 2017) pairing works from the Tate collection with pieces from the gallery’s Garman Ryan collection, which was founded and gifted to Walsall by the widow of Sir Jacob Epstein.

The pieces on display at Rugby Art Gallery this spring are selected by filmographer Emily Wardill to accompany and complement the displaying of her video piece (April 16 – June 11). The film explores the complexities of communication through  imagery of synchronised swimmers.

a cartoonish painting of a couple leaving a family home in suburbia
Grayson Perry, Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Crescent© The artist / Arts Council Collection
Over at The Herbert Museum Art Gallery in Coventry the  (February 5 – April 10) arrives followed by  (March 11 – June 19) offering a chance to see a masterpiece in Coventry.

Summer sees  (April 22- July 3) – his series of tapestries exploring class and taste - as it continues its rake’s progress across the land.

At Compton Verney they are joining in the Shakespeare 400 celebrations with  (March 19 - June 19) which will see actors from the RSC re-enact some of the most famous Shakespearian paintings by the likes of Singer Sargent, Fuseli, Watts and Romneyi as well as Tom Hunter and other contemporary artists.

In the summer (July 9 – October 2) examines the crucial role of design in shaping the Brave New World of the post-war period and the effect on everyday life and domestic interiors of the growing wealth of fifties Britain.

(October 15 – December 11) features over 70 works from the collection of the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf and traces Picasso’s evolving artistic vision through four decades of experimentation in printmaking techniques and subject matter.

(October 15 – December 11) exhibits 44 watercolours depicting the Queen's enthusiastic reception in Paris – forty years after the Battle of Waterloo.


Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery has (February 8 - June 5), a family-friendly touring exhibition from York Museums Trust which allows visitors to learn about every day life in Viking Britain. The exhibition also focuses on how the dead were buried and commemorated through artefacts and remains found around York and Shropshire.

Check back for regular updates. And if you think we have missed anything, use the comment function below to let us know.

 Explore more of our regional guides:

The best exhibitions to see in the East of England in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in London in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the North in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in Scotland in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the South East in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in the South West in 2016
The best exhibitions to see in Wales in 2016

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