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I visit the Ikon gallery regularly. In case this isn't enough of a testament for how much I enjoy it then read on! Located in the heart of Brindley Place, an area on which much money has been invested recently, the gallery feels well looked after. The building is a beatiful incorporation of old and new - an old fronted bulding with lovely features that include a glass staircase and a turret. Admission is free. The art exhibited is almost exclusively contemporary but nevertheless they present an enormous range of contemporary styles. Admittedly sometimes I find the displays hard to relate to, but art is down to taste anyway! Most of the building can be accessed with a reliable lift system in place. There are also folding chairs readily available. There are plenty of staff around too to give a helping hand. However it probably isn't the place to take most children - I can't see many qualities of the gallery that would appeal to them. There's a well stocked gift shop, although it is quite pricey! They have a remarkable range of art journals and that sort of thing, as well as books. I tend to get quirky postcards from there - they have a great range! I love stopping for a cup of tea and a bite to eat on trips out but this is where the gallery falls short for me - the costs putting me off. However there are plenty of nice coffee shops and restaurants around so it's easy to pop elsewhere!
Having had two reasonable sites in the past, the Ikon has now moved into a superb site close to Birmingham's Broad Street area. The Gallery is in a converted school, and the architect enjoyed more than a few million of lottery dosh to redesign and complete the superb conversion. As well as the gallery space, there is a good little bookshop and a great cafe - which serves the best coffee in Birmingham! The shows are often interesting, but suffer from the common complaint of public galleries, that they are very often conservative, and thus they tend to show the big names in the art world - because they are a safe bet - rather than support more contemporary and risky work. They are also very aware of their "international" standing, so few local artisits get much of a look in - shame, because there is a lot of talent in the Birmingham area. One of the most thought provoking recent exhibitions was that of "artist" Richard Billingham. Billingham photographed his dysfunctional family as references for paintings, but they were soon snapped up by the art world as images in their own right, and Billingham became hot property after his appearence in the Sensations show. The Ikon show was part retrospective, part new video work, and certainly raised a lot of questions as to the current state of photography, its relationship to art, and how family snaps can become "art", with price tags measured in thousands of pounds. His work certainly has nothing to do with art, as Billingham's intention had nothing to do with art when he was making the pictures, but it was well worth a visit, if only to see the overt pleasure and smug looks that the images brought to the middle class audiences faces!