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Grand Union
Photograph: Harry Meadley

The 13 best art galleries in Birmingham

In need of a culture fix? From huge museums to independent gems, Birmingham's art galleries have got you sorted

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver
&
Kayleigh Watson
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Whether you're looking for small haunts or grand establishments, Birmingham has plenty of creative institutions that can rival pretty much any in the UK; the city’s displays of elegantly fine and classical art are at home alongside its vibrant contemporary scene. Some of the best galleries in Birmingham are even located in buildings stunning enough to be attractions themselves.

So, if you’re headed to storied beasts like Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, or seeking niche tucked-away spots like Grand Union or the sleepy Ikon Gallery, visitors can rest assured that their artistic sensibilities will be well rewarded. Why not visit Birmingham’s beautiful museums while you’re in town, too?

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Best art galleries in Birmingham

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
  • Museums

It might be time to get your walking shoes on if you’re planning a visit to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, because this exceptional cultural space offers a wealth of exhibits to explore. Visitors can peruse one of the largest pre-Raphaelite collections in the world, delve into the treasures found in the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found or head up to the third level for a detailed, hands-on history of the city and its people.

Ikon Gallery
  • Art
  • Galleries

Ikon, the beating heart of contemporary art in Birmingham, spent the early days of its existence in the mid-1960s hopping all over the city. Since 1997, however, it has been settled into its permanent home in a striking neo-gothic building in Brindleyplace. Set up by a group of creatives from Birmingham School of Art, Ikon’s programmes mix the local with the international. The food isn’t bad, either – the in-house café offers British classics at reasonable prices.

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RBSA Gallery
  • Art

A whole lotta history runs through the veins of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. The RBSA was set up in the 1820s, receiving its royal charter in 1868 from Queen Victoria. It’s had a number of famous presidents, including William Morris and John Everett Millais, while Prince Charles is an honorary member. It moved from its opulent New Street premises to settle in Brook Street in 2000 and, while the modern building might not be quite as beautiful as its former digs, the gallery has a programme of dazzling exhibitions that make up for it.

The Barber Institute Of Fine Arts
  • Art

You might not expect one of the country’s finest collections of art to be found within a rather unassuming building on a university campus, but that speaks to the very nature of Birmingham – a city that has great things, but rarely shouts about them. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which is free to enter, boasts an astonishing collection of paintings, fine prints, miniatures and sculptures, including works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Rembrandt. 

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Located in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, Iron House is a multifaceted art space with a vision worthy of its historic industrial building. Previously a pawn shop and underground nightclub, its latest iteration was founded by a group of gallerists, event managers, marketers and property developers. Fittingly, its rooms incorporate lofty architecture, well-stocked lounge bars and a private bunker; with such a contemporary setting and tons of natural light flooding its atrium, Iron House shows off its works in style.

MAC Birmingham
  • Art
  • Arts centres

On the edge of Cannon Hill Park, the Midlands Arts Centre has been at the centre of Birmingham’s arts community for decades, and once counted Mike Leigh (‘Secrets and Lies’, ‘Mr Turner’) among its resident directors. Simply put, anyone interested in the fringes of modern theatre should make the MAC one of their first ports of call, as both the main theatre and smaller Hexagon space play host to some of the most cutting-edge theatre companies working today. There’s a small outdoor arena with theatre and live music in summer and a first-floor gallery that’s filled with both touring works and commissions from Midlands artists.

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  • Art
  • Galleries

A number of the city’s empty warehouses and factories have been co-opted by creative types looking to use them for artistic purposes. That’s most obviously the case in Digbeth, where a former cabinet maker’s premises on Heath Mill Lane has been transformed into Eastside Projects. Founded in 2008 by a collective of artists that includes Gavin Wade, Ruth Claxton and architect Céline Condorelli, this vast building is the complete opposite of a cosy gallery space. It has two exhibition spaces, hosting four or five shows in each every year.

  • Art

Re-opened to great fanfare in 2013 after a multi-million-pound makeover, this institution is a work of art in its own right. One of Europe’s largest regional libraries, the Library of Birmingham’s outer shell features a skin of metal hoops stretching across all six storeys. The interior design ranges from sleek and modern funnel to book-lined Hogwarts-esque staircases. The gallery itself is located on the third floor, just next to the BFI Mediatheque, and most of the pictures on offer are taken from the library’s significant photographic archive (including work from the likes of Sir Benjamin Stone, Val Williams and Brian Griffin).

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Tucked away in Digbeth, Stryx is an artist residency, studio and exhibition space that showcases work by female talent. Founded in 2012, its prerogative is to support and develop artists while hosting both regional and national collaborations. The work on display is modern, colourful and unequivocally unique; recent exhibitions have been politicised and culturally aware, ranging from exploring the symbolism of jewellery within diasporas to contemplating consumerism through shopping bags.

Castle Fine Art Gallery
  • Art

Commercial galleries can sometimes be off-putting to art lovers who don’t have a few grand handy, but that’s certainly not the case with the hugely successful chain Castle Fine Art, which began life in the West Midlands. Founder Paul Green was keen to create galleries that could be enjoyed by everybody, whether they wanted to look or buy, and that ethos stayed relevant even as the outlets grew across the country. The Birmingham outpost in the International Convention Centre has been operating for more than two decades, making it one of the city’s longest-running gallery spaces.

After more solid recommendations?

The 20 best things to do in Birmingham right now
  • Things to do

To really learn about the city’s historic manufacturing neighbourhoods, inspired inventions and great sporting achievements, you’ll have to go exploring. Which is why we’ve put together this handy bucket-list guide.

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