Frieze Art Fair/Ikon Gallery

Frieze Art Fair at Regent’s Park, London is the annual extravaganza which provides an opportunity for international fine art galleries to show off the work of selected artists from their stables, make a bit of a splash and often enough court controversy with some outrageous offerings. If the many regulars I met last week are anything to go by, this year was a much more considered and serious event than some in previous years.

There was nothing that I saw which in any way outraged me, and much that delighted and engaged me. Chief amongst the latter were works by Frank Auerbach, Carmen Herrera (whose wonderful show at Ikon a few years ago remains an abiding memory), Roy Lichtenstein, Kwon Young Woo, and John Hoyland. But especially enjoyable was the sole offering from The Sunday Painter, an artist-led gallery based in Peckham, which showed a water feature by Samara Scott, recessed into the floor and sitting so still and unmoving that, like most other viewers, I initially took it to be a layer of inlaid resin. This colourful, thoughtful, subtle installation seemed to have caught the imagination of many visitors and was one of the most talked about items amongst my fellow visitors on the first day of the show.

That was especially satisfying as this relatively young gallery was taking part in its first Frieze, sited in the curated section in which galleries had been selected by the organisation for inclusion. Samara Scott exhibited recently at Birmingham’s Eastside Projects so there must be some satisfaction in that quarter to have talent spotted at an early stage.

There were 164 galleries from 27 countries in total, spread over the main space at the south end of Regents Park and several more in Frieze Masters at the North East corner, as well as those individual artists whose work was featured in the Sculpture Trail which extended throughout the whole demaisne. In a full day of trekking, looking, discussing, and looking again, I only managed to take in the main event. To “do” Frieze properly I imagine one would need to devote at least two days. However, with so much happening in London’s galleries at the moment, a day was all that could be spared.

Other exhibitions viewed recently included: Barbara Hepworth and Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain (soon to be graced as Director by the inimitable Alex Farquharson of Nottingham Contemporary), each of which was magnificent in its own way, Auerbach particularly thoughtful and thought provoking; Agnes Martin and The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern, the first of which was a WOW (Martin is very much an artists’ artist) but now ended, while the latter might not be too high up on anyone’s list of priorities, insightful as it may have been; Goya Portraits at the National Gallery, which must be seen if only because there will never be such an opportunity to view them all gathered together like this again; the small but utterly gorgeous Barkcloth Textiles at the British Museum, which anyone with an interest in textile art ought to make an effort to see.

No, I didn’t see them all in one visit: it so happens that there have been other business reasons to be “In Town” regularly recently so these have been the bonuses added on to some of them. Additionally, you might want to pop in to the Wellcome Trust on your next visit to London since it is just across the road from Euston Station. There is always something really intriguing here, even if there is no featured exhibition and you simply go to view the permanent collection gathered over a lifetime by Dr Wellcome.

No matter how long you are in London, you will need some sort of food intake. As in all tourist cities, there is much that is awful, plenty that is mediocre and, lots of ripoffs, but if you know where to look or just have a nose (as well as a taste) for it, there are some really good and surprisingly not overly expensive eating places. As I was overnighting at a delightful find from Airbnb in Chalk Farm, I found myself at the Colonel Fawcett in Camden Town. This is a well known and well liked bar with a bit of history and (more importantly perhaps) food and which, I suppose, thinks of itself as a Gastropub. The food is pretty good, the wine seems reasonable, and the beers on tap more than acceptable. I had their Roast Smoked Pork Belly with Confit Potato, Black Pudding Croquette, Kale, and Mustard and Cider Cream which was as good as any Pork Belly I have ever tasted and my colleague the Sirloin Steak with Burnt Shallot Puree, Roast “Heritage” (really?) Tomatoes, Bone Marrow Butter and “Hand Cut” Chips which looked, smelled, and tasted very good indeed. Does that sound just a tiny bit pretentious? Well, maybe, but it was well cooked, and tasted excellent. The pub prides itself on its range of gins and does have an acceptable wine list but it also serves some damned good beers so we both had the Redemption Pale Ale which went down very well with both dishes: rich, hoppy, fresh, a lively tickle on the palate.

Since I think of my main task of food criticism as being principally related to Birmingham restaurants, I am not writing about this one in any more detail but I can definitely recommend the Colonel Fawcett should you be in London and want decent food at a reasonable price. (1 Randolph St, Camden Town, London NW1 0SS)  Two main courses and two beers each, £52 plus tip.

Spending a few days in London and being so excited by the gallery scene there makes one forget just what great venues we have back in Birmingham. The main Museum and its various branches house a collection as good as anything and better than most outside of the capital. In the Ikon was have one of the country’s (indeed one of Europe’s) most interesting galleries, and the various enterprises now thriving in Eastside offer regular events of work by new, upcoming, exciting and often thought provoking, mainly young, artists and groups. We are lucky to have them but we should cherish them and help them to develop by supporting them. The next Digbeth First Friday would be a good way to start.

In the meantime, the new Fiona Banner exhibition at Ikon is at the top of my list. A visit there in the next few days is definitely on my schedule and, of course, Café Opus is always worth a punt. Since my first review some months ago, I have returned several times and each time come away as satisfied as on the first occasion. Consistency is as important as genius.

By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman

Fiona Banner, Scroll Down And Keep Scrolling, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 10 October 2015 – 17 January 2016, (With thanks to the Ikon Gallery for these photos)

The Big Hoot 2015 - For Little & Big Kids Alike

This year, is the Year of the Sheep (or Goat) - but it would seem someone forgot to tell Birmingham - as in Birmingham, it appears to be the Year of the Owl.

Not just one owl either, 89 giant owls which have been dotted around Birmingham (with one being slightly further afield at Twycross Zoo) - from outside the new library to Gracechurch in Sutton Coldfield, and from Ward End Park to Kings Heath.

Each of the 89 giant owls have been individually created by artists from Birmingham and beyond, whilst many schools and local community groups have had a hand in designing the small owls which have also been dotted around Birmingham. And every single one of the owls which landed in Birmingham on July 20th and fly off again on September 27th are part of The Big Hoot 2015.

What is The Big Hoot 2015:

The Big Hoot 2015 has been presented by creative producers Wild in Art who are working in partnership with Birmingham Children's Hospital to create a trail of fantastically designed owls, each with their own individual QR codes which provide more information about the owls and their creators, along with offering some special awards.

The aim of The Big Hoot 2015, along with providing beautiful owl sculptures in various locations throughout Birmingham which people can explore at their own leisure, is to raise money for Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity - and more information can be found here.

It's Not Just For Little Kids:

By now, if you've been anywhere in or around Birmingham you will have seen groups of people around the owls, having their pictures taken next to them - something which I like to refer to as an "owlfie" - or bending down at peculiar angles to read information available.

And the owl spotting as part of The Big Hoot 2015 isn't just for little kids either, big kids (aka mums, dads, aunts, uncles & grandparents) can and should get involved too....and this is from experience.

During the August Bank Holiday weekend, armed with The Big Hoot 2015 app (which I highly recommend you download if you're off owl spotting), the car - myself and my fiancée set off with the task of finding all 89 owls as quickly as we could. Once we found each owl, one of us would scan the QR code using The Big Hoot app, whilst the other took a picture - we even took a few "owlfies".

For the early stages of the owl spotting it was fairly relaxed, and we saw lots of other families also taking part - everyone was friendly, waiting their turn to scan the code or take a picture. Strangers who'd never met each other had quick conversations about their favourite owls so far or pointed out where some of the trickier to spot owls were.

We were making great strides into spotting all 89 too, with our plan being to start on Broad Street/Brindley Place, and work our way through the City Centre and down to Digbeth.

As the day wore on, more conversations with people we'd never met and more owl spotting took place. By this time, I'd learnt that Dr Whoot (in Snow Hill) was one of the more popular owls, not only within the City Centre but out of all 89 too - and then before we knew it, all owls located in the City Centre/Jewellery Quarter had been spotted, scanned and photo taken.

A quick check of the inbuilt map on the app and a plan was formed to drive to Kings Heath, Handsworth and Perry Barr to spot the owls there, before heading home and finding those at Fort Dunlop.

By the end of Day 1, we had made great in-roads into spotting as many owls as possible, although we were hindered slightly as we arrived at Soho House after the gates had locked so couldn't scan the owl.

Undeterred and adamant to find all 89 owls, we made a plan of action for the following day - which would involve driving to Twycross Zoo first to find the owl there, before heading back to Soho House to scan the owl we were unable to get to the night before.

We still had to find the owls in Sutton Coldfield, Blakesley Hall, Aston, Nechells and Erdington - and despite the rain, we knew we could do it.

It may have become tiring come the last couple of owls (this may also have something to do with walking over 10 miles on day 1), we may have got very wet due to the rain and we may have got a little lost coming out of Twycross Zoo...BUT we scanned all 89 owls, with the last one being Love Owl situated at Moore Hall - and I cannot tell you what a relief it was to do.

Finding all 89 owls also felt somewhat rewarding - and it paid off, as Satnam Rana of BBC news fame, contacted me via Twitter to see if I would meet her to discuss our owl spotting adventures. Whilst I wasn't able to, my fiancée did and featured on the news.

Honestly, if you have time to spot the owls go and do it. I'm not saying go crazy and spot all 89 in 2 days, nor am I saying you'll get on the news - but you will have a great time and you will see some great artwork which highlights how great Birmingham is.

The Big Hoot 2015 is more than the owls though, it's about seeing parts of Birmingham you wouldn't necessarily see or visit - places until I started the owl hunt I knew existed, such as Soho House and Sheldon Country Park.

But it's even more than that still. It's about charity, and helping Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity - whether this be by taking part in the auction to buy one of the owls after September 27th 2015 or by texting HOOT to 70099 to donate £2 today to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.

Happy Owl Spotting!

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & chief owl spotter.

#TheBigHoot2015 @BrumFaves

Culture Faves: The Secret Gallery

Opened in 1939, just six weeks before the outbreak of World War II, and tucked away in a corner of Birmingham University campus is a very special place, known to fewer people than it ought to be. At least (I hope) until now. This is the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

A striking Art Deco building designed by Robert Atkinson, the imposing exterior does credit to the treasures within.  With a permanent collection that includes work by Picasso, Monet, Rodin, Manet, Degas, Magritte, Turner, Derain, Van Gogh, Whistler, Gauguin, Botticelli, Rubens and Gainsborough, as well as containing several hundred drawings and prints, any visit to the Barber is an artistic delight, and you can visit on any day of the week.  Perhaps what I most value about the Barber is the space and peace of the galleries, qualities rarely - if ever, now -  found in places like the Tate or Royal Academy. You can really take time with the painting or drawing of your choice, to engage with it and let it get under your skin, as you won't have to jostle with crowds, or have your concentration broken by some selfish philistine cutting across your line of vision. 

If your tastes are more modern, the Barber is not just about long-dead artists. In February the Barber joins the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, in hosting New Art West Midlands 2015. This exhibition contains some of the best work by recent graduates of the five West Midlands university art schools and the Barber trails it by saying that "Voyeurism, idolatry, the transience of life and orange-phobia are among the diverse subjects and themes explored in this years New Art West Midlands."  I can't wait.

Many people don't know that the Barber also has a coin gallery, which has, among other exhibits, one of Europe's finest collections of Byzantine coins. There is also an excellent concert hall which in this quarter alone hosts the Birmingham International Piano Festival and performances from, among others, the Nash Ensemble and the Dante and Tesla string quartets.

But one of my favourite aspects of this gallery is its accessibility to the young.  The Barber regularly holds creative Sunday workshops, welcomes visits from schools and colleges and makes art a living, breathing thing for all. On 17th February, a Picasso Family Day is being run on a "no booking required" basis, where young visitors can enjoy storytellers, animations and films about Picasso (in an event organised in association with the Flatpack Festival) and can even make a Picasso postcard to send to the Japanese home gallery of one the Barber's current borrowed exhibits "Woman Sleeping in a Chair".

There is so much more than this (did I mention the book club?), but why not go there as soon as you can and form your own view? I bet you go again...and again.

The Barber is special to Birmingham, and makes Birmingham a more special place. The gallery even has its own bull....

Words by PJB @TamertonPJB #BetterInBrum

All photos © The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. @BarberInstitute

Lost in Metropolis

By Lou Knight Weeks before the exhibit opened at Gas Hall, it was brought to life in this stunning trailer Metropolis: Reflections on modern city. Developed alongside the New Art Gallery in Walsall and Ikon Gallery, as part of the £1 million Art Fund International initiative, it showcased work by 25 contemporary artists. Curved partitions made flowing pathways where at any time you could view multiple pieces from various angles. The exhibit included projections, media installations, paintings, sculptures and photos from around the world.

Metropolis Collage

A blue mural featuring a photo of the Selfridges building marked the exhibit’s beginning; the voluptuous curves of silver discs unanimous with the city. Untitled by Barry McGee (2011) brought street art and geometric pattern together (see above left). With its bright colours and concave design it was a visual loudspeaker clamouring for attention. Studying its many components; the humorous and calligraphic sketches were diverse, as fascinating close up as the entire piece was impressive, stood at a distance.

Photos of the social divide existing at the outskirts of Paris comprised scenes of conflict in a set of framed photos. Improvised by Parisian youth and based on the artist’s direction, they were unsettling and yet vulnerable. Juxtaposed screens in an enclosed space, showed a woman blowing air and each time the video opposite sped up; the city streets racing by with each exhale. The simplicity of the idea and complexity of its timing made it compelling viewing.

Some of the other media projections included two giant screens set beside one another, capturing overlaid city views by night. The imagery in soft purples and inky hues blinked with lighthouses and outlines of Ferris wheels. A kaleidoscope of Las Vegas collapsed and expanded upon itself in sharp angles, making the neon landscape dance.

Simple design took metallic shades to great heights in a commentary on the digital age with Aleksandra Mir’s World Map of Social Networks (2009) (see above right). Stooped and bent figures painted in sharp repose spoke volumes of the vagaries of city life. A large painting of smoke curling upward made a hauntingly wistful image.

Audio taken of marches accompanied by black and white footage reminded us of how cities have suffered at human hands. Memories retold on the softly spoken stereo that you could sit beside invited and then drew out strong emotions if you lingered. In the next room, a 30 foot long mural of an Indian street scene brought the vibrance and cacophony of a morning market to life. Dayanita Singh’s photos from the Dream Villa sequence 2008 (see above centre) beautifully captured the rich depths of colour in urban back streets, by lamplight.

Despite its success, BMAG continues to provide free exhibit such as this to the public. The ambitious collection was a rare insight into how our cities operate and have evolved. Invaluable to students and admirers of art and history alike, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is a zeitgeistian labyrinth that nourishes the creative spirit of all who enter. For current events at BMAG click here or follow them on Twitter @BM_AG

Writer Lou Knight can be contact on Twitter: @louknightweb

A Colourful Crowd

By Tim Wilson A Colourful Crowd (aka #TheCrowd) is a ground-breaking programme run by young people, offering an alternative take on what happens at The New Art Gallery Walsall.

A Colourful Crowd Jul 13 Collage5








The group came into being large as a result of Damien Hirst's year long exhibition at the gallery. The gallery wanted to make the most of the opportunity of having the works of an iconic figure like Hirst on display. Doing something brilliant with young people was a vital part of this and A Colourful Crowd came into being.

It's all about the young people's ideas. #TheCrowd conceive and manage high quality activities and events, as demonstrated by their recent one day extravaganza Spin Day // Spot Day, a family focused event dedicated to having fun creating, making, dancing and eating toast! :)

Putting on events is one just one part of what The Crowd do though. As young people, they want to develop their skills, so they get to:

- Work and negotiate with professionals from various backgrounds

- Come up with ideas for skills and training workshops - Visit and explore different places and venues.

As the confidence of the young people grows, increasingly I take a step back and let the young people fly with their creative ideas. I am a big kid at heart so it's inspiring to see their creativity prosper.

For more info Visit: Facebook: Twitter: @acolourfulcrowd Hashtag: #jointhecrowd #thecrowd

Tim Wilson is project lead for A Colourful Crowd and can be reached or @Timmy666