How it all began

In 1964, the artists’ group that founded Ikon published a prospectus that was as clear as it was idealistic. Their aesthetic proposition was neatly summarised:
“Ikon is intended as an antithesis to exclusive art establishments and galleries … [it] has been formed because of the need for an accessible place where the exchange of visual ideas can become a familiar reality.”

Ikon Kiosk
Ikon's glass walled Kiosk

A GALLERY WITHOUT WALLS

Ikon was first conceived of as a ‘gallery without walls’, a headquarters for a fluid artistic programme touring to non-art venues. In 1965 it took up residence in an octagonal glass-walled kiosk in Birmingham’s brave new Bullring precinct, adjacent to the landmark Rotunda building.

Supported from the beginning by a modest and visionary couple, Angus and Midge Skene, it challenged a conservative local art world. Taking the idea of an ‘ikon’ as a mobile art object focused towards a local audience.

The four artists officially listed as the founders of Ikon – Jesse Bruton, Robert Groves, Sylvani Merilion and David Prentice – were joined by several others in order to help develop and articulate the original vision. They included Peter Berry, Trevor Denning, Dinah Prentice and John Salt.

Why Ikon?

We had a meeting at Midge and Angus’ in order to decide on a name for the organisation. We all turned up with suggestions, such as “New Birmingham Gallery” and “Image”.

I was particularly interested in Russian or Greek – eastern orthodox – icons, and thought well “Ikon” is a lovely word. It means image and you get a four letter word that divides beautifully geometrically and was splendid in all directions.

It was appropriate (also) because it suggested moving images … When I mooted it the others said “Oh no, no really, no, not having any of that …” After a few more beers everyone else’s suggestions were shot down and they said “Oh well, I suppose it will have to be Ikon then”.
Robert Groves

Robert Groves with icon (1968)

IKON AT 50

No video files found.
00:00
00:00

This short film, produced for Ikon’s 50th anniversary in 2014, is about Ikon’s development from a small artist-led space in the Bullring in the 1960s to its position as an internationally renowned art gallery at the heart of Birmingham’s cultural scene.

EXHIBITION ARCHIVE

Explore Ikon’s history through our digital archive including a specific series of group exhibitions looking back at Ikon’s artistic programme through the lens of a particular decade, to date the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

IKON THROUGH THE DECADES

Exhibition19.02.201421.04.2014
See more
Ikon Icons: John Salt
Ikon Icons sees the return to Ikon of five key British artists from an exhibition programme that has extended over five decades. John Salt is our Ikon Icon for the 1960s, to be followed by Ian Emes (1970s), Cornelia Parker (1980s), Yinka Shonibare (1990s) and Julian Opie (2000s). A presentation of work by each takes place, consecutively, throughout 2014 in Ikon’s Tower Room.
Exhibition28.07.200412.09.2004
See more
Some of the Best Things in Life Happen Accidentally
‘Ikon is intended as an antithesis to exclusive art establishments and galleries … it has been formed because of the need for an accessible place where the exchange of visual ideas can become a familiar reality’. These words ring out of the prospectus for Ikon, published in 1964. They summarise a fundamental proposition that informed the activities of the gallery during its early years, a counteraction to a pervasive cultural conservatism.
Exhibition30.04.201422.06.2014
See more
Ikon Icon 1970s
Ian Emes
Ian Emes shows his masterpiece French Windows (1972), dating from his final year as a student at City of Birmingham Polytechnic (now BIAD). It is a visualisation of One of These Days, a track from Pink Floyd’s Meddle album. An extraordinary melange of pop and surrealism, animated ballet dancers move through three dimensions that stream with architectural geometry and lattice arrangements of clocks, window frames and boxes.
Exhibition20.07.201005.09.2010
See more
This Could Happen To You: Ikon in the 1970s
Ikon presented the second chapter in its history; a survey of the artistic programme from 1970 to 1978. This followed the 2004 exhibition Some of the best things in life happen accidentally: the beginning of Ikon. Works by thirty-two artists were displayed throughout the galleries, supplemented by installations at Ikon Eastside and the Pallasades Shopping Centre.
Exhibition02.07.201431.08.2014
See more
Ikon Icon 1980s
Cornelia Parker
In 1988 Ikon commissioned Cornelia Parker to make Thirty Pieces of Silver, a major installation now in the collection of Tate. She returns to Ikon to show Thirty Pieces of Silver (exhaled) (2003), a more recent work comprising thirty silver-plated items crushed by a 250 tonne industrial press. A kind of critical response to monumental floor-based sculpture, it also characteristically conflates ideas of preciousness and perceived cultural value with traces of a traumatic event.
Exhibition02.07.201431.08.2014
See more
As Exciting As We Can Make It: Ikon in the 1980s
A survey of Ikon’s programme from the 1980s, As Exciting As We Can Make It, is a highlight of our 50th anniversary year. A comprehensive exhibition, including work by 29 artists, it features painting, sculpture, installation, film and photography actually shown at the gallery during this pivotal decade.
Exhibition10.09.201409.11.2014
See more
Ikon Icon 1990s
Yinka Shonibare MBE
Yinka Shonibare’s exhibition at Ikon in 1999 was seminal. We now show Five Under Garments and Much More (1995), an early suspended installation that prefigures the artist’s mannequin works. Each piece mimics the structured corsetry of period noble dress but the dramatically enlarged proportions and exuberant textiles suggest a provocative de-robing of social and class constructions.
Exhibition19.11.201425.01.2015
See more
Ikon Icon 2000s
Julian Opie
The installation of Julian Opie’s high-rise building sculptures on the first floor of Ikon Gallery in 2001 coincided with 9/11. The modernist aesthetic they embody and their smart neatness as models is now informed by memories of a day that dramatically changed the world. The ‘less is more’ efficiency they suggest, symbolic of a society that functions in an orderly way, can no longer be seen with innocence. A number of these architectural pieces now rise up in Ikon’s Tower Room.

Downloads

Document Name
Type
Size
Download
History of the building
pdf
274.0 kB
Ikon at 50
pdf
81.6 kB

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Hear the latest Ikon news including new exhibitions and off-site projects, events, shop offers and announcements.

IKON GALLERY
1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace
Birmingham, B1 2HS

GALLERY: +44 (0)121 248 0708
SHOP: +44 (0)121 248 0711

Copyright © 2021 IKON. All rights reserved. Registered charity no. 528892