Here is my guide to 10 of the best Birmingham art exhibitions in 2019. From drawings by Leonardo da Vinci at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery to contemporary craft in the Jewellery Quarter, it’s going to be a great year. And the best bit? They’re all free. So, get your diary out and pencil in these exhibitions now.

1. Haroon Mirza: reality is somehow what we expect it to be at Ikon Gallery

30 November — 24 February 2019

This is the most comprehensive exhibition of work by Haroon Mirza in the UK to date, filling Ikon’s exhibition spaces with moving imagery, sculptural installation and electronic sound. Don’t miss the immersive sound chamber, filled with an electronic buzz that gets louder and louder until it cuts out into silence and darkness.

Best Birmingham art exhibitions 2019
Tereza Buskova, ‘Beheading of the Cockerel’ (2009), Courtesy of the artist.

2. Forward: New Art from Birmingham at Medicine Café & Gallery

23 January — 24 March 2019

Now, more than ever, Birmingham’s artistic community is thriving. Forward: New Art from Birmingham is a group exhibition, including work by 20 artists, living and working in this city, to highlight the depth and vitality of a wide range of practices. Artists include Ken Banks, Tereza Buskova, Leah Carless, Anna Katarzyna Domejko, Andrew Gillespie, Kurt Hickson, Fred Hubble, Brian J Morrison, Suzi Osborn, Larissa E. Shaw, Emily Sparkes, Emily Scarrott, Ally Standing, Sarah Taylor Silverwood and Emily Warner.

Matthew Krishanu will hold shows at both Ikon Gallery and MAC in 2019

3. Matthew Krishanu: A Murder of Crows at Ikon Gallery

8 January — 10 March 2019

Ikon will be filled with dozens of painted crows. Mischievous, malevolent and sometimes comical, Matthew Krishanu’s birds are partly inspired by crows in art and literature; for example, ‘Crow’ by Ted Hughes, Edgar Allan Poe’s raven, or the mythical crows of trickster tales. Inspired by bird watching in England, they are also signifiers of Krishanu’s childhood in Bangladesh where crows were always close by, cawing in trees or pecking at rubbish dumps.

4. Matthew Krishanu: The Sun Never Sets at MAC

12 January – 10 March 2019

Alongside his exhibition at Ikon, Matthew Krishanu will also hold a show at MAC. He will exhibit paintings inspired from his childhood spent in Bangladesh. His reflective images explore his eleven years living in Bangladesh, while capturing his distinctive bond with his brother. His paintings explore the childhood gaze of the boys, depicting experiences of an atmospheric yet complex world of expatriates, missionaries and expansive landscapes.

“I want the viewer to sense the complications: that the scenes depicted are not always ones of innocence, that there are historical and cultural currents at play, and that the childhood world is easily punctured by adult constructions and beliefs” – Matthew Krishanu.

Best Birmingham art exhibitions 2019
Leonardo da Vinci, ‘A map of the Valdichiana’, c.1503-6

5. Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

1 February – 6 May 2019

To mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, 12 of the Renaissance master’s drawings from the Royal Collection will go on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The drawings have been selected to reflect the full range of Leonardo’s interests – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany.

Best Birmingham art exhibitions 2019
For that moment at least, everything balanced precariously on the prospect of big bucks… (2018) © Mark Murphy

6. Fertile Ground: Barbara Gibson and Mark Murphy at Argentea Gallery

11 January – 9 February 2019

This exhibition will focus on two of the best Birmingham artists who are at the vanguard of contemporary collage. Barbara Gibson uses vintage images from mid-twentieth century magazines to create socially engaged pieces that reflect upon gender issues. Mark Murphy plays with scale and form to produce simple, surreal pieces.

Don’t miss contemporary craft at the RBSA Gallery & prints by Sarah Moss at Winterbourne

7. Carnival at RBSA Gallery

4 February — 1 June 2019

Beat the winter blues with this display of colourful and vibrant designer-maker craft. Inspired by the extravagant Carnivals of New Orleans and Brazil, this exhibition includes bright jewellery, vivid ceramics and luxurious textiles. Every piece is handmade by a designer-maker, so bring some colour into your life with a piece of ‘Carnival’!

8. ‘They Called it Winterbourne’: Linocuts by Sarah Moss at Winterbourne

27 November — 2 September 2019

Since 2015, Sarah Moss has been artist in residence at Winterbourne House and Gardens.  An illustrator and printmaker with a long association with Winterbourne, Sarah decided to create a series of linocut prints inspired directly by Winterbourne’s history and architectural style, and the Arts and Crafts style. Filled with intricate floral borders and designs, they are stunning. Limited editions will be for sale at the shop. This exhibition is free but you will have to pay for entry into Winterbourne House & Gardens. 

Sweet and sinister overlap at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

9. Too Cute! Sweet is about to get Sinister at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

26 Jan – 12 May 2019

Artist and filmmaker Rachel Maclean examines the world of cuteness by curating works from the Arts Council Collection and Birmingham’s collection to reveal how objects and images can have the unique ability to be simultaneously sweet and sinister. The exhibition will be accompanied by an interpretative video with a twist! ‘Dr. Cute’ – a grotesque Care Bear like creature played by Maclean – will present a short lecture on the themes explored in the show. The doctor will attempt to put forward an academic account of cuteness and its affects, but will be constantly hindered by sudden emotional responses, as artworks incite reflexes of love, repulsion and fear.

Hew Locke birmingham ikon gallery
Hew Locke explores colonial powers at Ikon Gallery

10. Hew Locke Here’s The Thing at Ikon Gallery 

‘Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing’ at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham will be the most comprehensive exhibition to date of work by British artist Hew Locke. Involving a wide range of media – painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and installation, including extensive use of collage and found objects – Locke explores the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, and the symbols through which different cultures assume and assert identity. Fusing historical source material with a keen interest in current affairs, often through the juxtaposition or modification of existing artefacts, Locke focuses attention especially on the UK, the monarchy and his childhood home of the then newly independent Guyana.

Fancy a trip to the theatre too? Take a look at the 8 must-see theatre shows coming to Birmingham & Wolverhampton in 2019. 

Ruth x 

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