2020 is going to be a brilliant year for art in the West Midlands. Birmingham will host some blockbuster shows, from modern master Cézanne to contemporary painter Caroline Walker. It’s ‘Power to the People’ in a new exhibition about protest at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. And in the Black Country, there are shows celebrating cutting edge contemporary art. I’ve rounded up 10 art exhibitions in Birmingham and the West Midlands in 2020 which you won’t want to miss.
And they are ALL FREE to attend!
1. ‘Cézanne & the Modern French Print’ at The Barber
7 February – 7 June 2020
Paul Cézanne is one of the most influential artists in the history of modern art. We wouldn’t have Cubism without Cézanne. He painted people and the landscape in terms of patterns and geometric shapes, inspiring artists like Picasso and Georges Braque.
In February 2020 the Barber will be showing a hugely important Cezanne print. It is being loaned to the gallery from a private collector (lucky enough to own it!). ‘Les Baigneurs, Petite Planche’ focuses on his most famous motif: bathers in the landscape. Again and again, Cezanne made pictures of nude bathers amongst trees. He turned a traditional, classical scene into a modern, abstracted vision.
The show will display this work and other Cezanne prints alongside work by major French artists – Manet, Vuillard, Millet and Renoir.
2. Caroline Walker, ‘Women’s Work’, at MAC
4 April – 28 June 2020
Caroline Walker is one Britain’s best painters. A Royal College of Art graduate, she paints everyday life with striking realism and atmospheric lighting. Her paintings remind me of the great American realist artist, Edward Hopper.
Most often, Walker paints ‘invisible’ women at work. In her show for MAC, she shines a spotlight on the unseen jobs performed by women. The heroines of her paintings are tailors, chambermaids, hairdressers and nail bar workers. Setting the scene in public spaces, such as hotels and beauty parlours, she invites the viewer into quiet moments and intimate scenes. Walker complicates traditional ideas of the woman as the subject for art, exploring femininity today.
Out of all the art exhibitions in Birmingham and the West Midlands in 2020, this is the one I am MOST looking forward to.
3. ’20:20′ at The New Art Gallery Walsall
21 February – 14 June 2020
The New Art Gallery celebrates its 20th birthday on the 20th February 2020! A modern and contemporary art gallery, this show will celebrate what it does best. The exhibition will bring together contemporary artworks collected over the last 20 years, many from artists who have featured in the gallery’s exhibition programme. Themes will include the changing urban landscape, the Black Country, the impact of globalisation and people and places.
Participating artists include Mohamed Bourouissa, Lee Bul, Ruth Claxton, Martin Creed, Rita Donagh, Brian Griffin, Romuald Hazoumé, Mahtab Hussain, Andrew Jackson, Martin Parr, Mark Power, Juneau Projects, Hew Locke, David Shrigley, Dayanita Singh, Soheila Sokhanvari ,Andrew Tift, Grazia Toderi and Stuart Whipps.
4. ‘Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour’ at Wolverhampton Art Gallery
7 March – 31 May 2020
Marking the bicentenary of the births of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 2019, this touring exhibition from the Royal Collection explores the royal couple’s collecting of watercolours as a record of their public and private lives together. ‘Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour’ will feature almost 70 works from Victoria and Albert’s collection, several of which will be on public display for the very first time.
Throughout their marriage, Victoria and Albert were enthusiastic patrons, and practitioners, of watercolour painting. They formed a collection of thousands of works and spent happy evenings together organising their acquisitions into albums. The works they collected documented their public and private lives, including court ceremonies, trips abroad and family moments.
5. John Walker, ‘New Paintings’ at Ikon Gallery
4 December 2019 — 23 February 2020
Birmingham-born artist John Walker is one of the best abstract painters working today. Having studied in Birmingham at the Moseley School of Art, and later the Birmingham College of Art, Walker was one of the first artists to show at Ikon Gallery in 1972. Here he presented large chalk drawings on blackboards made in situ. In the same year he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.
This exhibition reveals an artist at the height of his powers, featuring “anti-scenic” paintings inspired by the coastal landscapes of Maine where Walker now lives. The freedom with which he is working, and the edgy beauty he achieves as a result, give rise to a refreshing artistic experience of colour and graphic rhythms.
Walker’s preoccupation with the natural world, and his place in it, is engaging. He captures light, space and tidal movement. He is turning paint into land, sea and sky on a coastline that beats to the sound of the Atlantic Ocean – a far cry from the industrial city where he was born and brought up.
6. ‘Birmingham Revolutions: Power to the People’ at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
7 December 2019 – 4 September 2020
This exhibition explores Birmingham’s vibrant and varied history of protest and activism, and the role the city has played in some of the most important campaigns and movements in British history.
From the Priestley Riots of 1791 all the way through to the LGBTQ+ campaigns of today, ‘Birmingham Revolutions – Power to the People’ is a chance to discover the different voices and ideas that have contributed to the fight for a better Birmingham.
It will look at campaigns such as voting reform, nuclear disarmament, trade unionism, anti-racism and human rights.
‘Birmingham Revolutions’ aims to show all the different ways in which a person can protest and campaign, what we can learn from past protests, and show everything we as a city have achieved so far.
It will include art, music, literature, clothing and a range of other objects in order to display the long history of gatherings, riots, strikes and campaigns that have occurred in Birmingham.
It’s a very relevant show right now.
7. ‘Dressed to the Nines’ at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
7 December 2019 – 4 September 2020
Next door to Birmingham Museum’s Revolutions exhibition is ‘Dressed to the Nines’. From formal balls to a night out on the town, clothing plays an important part in special occasions. This exhibition is about dressing up and going out from around 1850 to today.
It shows just how much our ‘going out’ clothes have changed!
A number of garments, accessories and full outfits from the city’s dress collection will be on display. These include a 1930s beaded evening dress, an embroidered court uniform which belonged to Neville Chamberlain, cocktail dresses by Christian Dior and Norman Hartnell, and A LOT of shoes. Most of these items have never been exhibited before.
It also features a selection of drawings, paintings, prints and photographs, including works by Vanley Burke, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
8. StArt 2020 & Art Classes at RBSA Gallery
2 January — 15 February 2020 / Art classes through February
If you’re looking for some new art to hang at home, this is the show for you. For over 200 years the diverse practices of the RBSAs Members and Associates have been displayed in this annual exhibition, including the work of those newly elected this year. All work is priced at £300 or under. The exhibition is displayed over three floors and includes artwork in a wide range of media.
It is also worth mentioning that the RBSA are running a whole range of art workshops from 17-29 February. Why not take the opportunity to learn new art techniques with a professional artist? Classes range from portraiture and experimental painting, to printmaking and photography. They run over 1 or 2 days. Absolute beginners are welcome! Check the website for availability and price.
9. Thomas Wynne ‘Fertile Ground’ at Argentea Gallery
9 January – 8 February 2020
‘Fertile Ground’ is an annual exhibition at Argentea Gallery which highlights new photography talent in the West Midlands. This year, it features Thomas Wynne, whose work explores the difference between looking and seeing. He is interested in what one individual might see within an image that another doesn’t, and what influences this.
He also aims to visualise the experience of the sublime. The sublime is a concept which British artists have explored, and tried to picture, for over 400 years. The theory of sublime art was put forward by Edmund Burke in ‘A Philosophical Enquiry’ published in 1757. He defined the sublime as an artistic effect productive of the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling.
These photographs look set to make you look, see and feel.
10. ‘Cornwall as Crucible’ at The Barber
19 February – 17 May 2020
This show will be a joyful celebration of painting. It features work by the St Ives school and shows how Cornwall became an unlikely hotbed for avant-garde art in the 20th century. From 1939 to well into the 1960s many modern painters and sculptors moved to St Ives, and created abstract art inspired by the forms and spirit of the landscape.
The show includes work by all the big names: Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, Terry Frost, Peter Lanyon and many more.
I hope you enjoy these free art exhibitions in Birmingham and the West Midlands in 2020!