New Art West Midlands – 2017

New Art West Midlands gives a chance to young artists in the region to display their work. The quantity and scale of the entries this year are filling four different display venues: – Waterhall Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Midlands Art Centre (MAC) at Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Worcester Art Gallery. I have visited the first two of the above, but cannot comment on the work displayed at the others. The initial impressions at these first two is that the chosen works have a real sense of scale about them.

The front cover of the current Artefacts magazine uses part of a large image built from fractal imagery. Its actual proportion is displayed here:

If you liked the Artefacts cover, you’ll love the real thing – at full size it is much more striking. You’ll find in the Waterhall display.

For me, a kind of companion piece, possibly because of its similar proportions, is included in the MAC show.

Viewed small in this post, it looks dull. The real thing is much more impressive. As are many of the works.

Go and see at least one of these shows. Our upcoming artists have real potential.


City Council withdraws cuts to Birmingham Museums

The Friends’ campaigning, combined with the very effective impact of messages from wider afield, persuaded the City Council to withdraw ALL its proposed cuts to its support for Birmingham Museums for the year 2017-18. This is great news – though it promises nothing about council support for future years.

 For the record, this is the message the Friends sent to the City Council:-

“We urge you to reconsider your proposal to reduce greatly the service charge you pay to Birmingham Museums Trust.

The Friends of Birmingham Museums is an independent charity with approximately 1,000 members, most of whom live in and around Birmingham and pay their Council tax to Birmingham City Council.
Over the 85 years since its formation, the Friends have demonstrated the active support of Birmingham citizens for Birmingham Museums. Members’ funds have financed acquisitions and bequests of over 2000 objects of all kinds adding to the city’s collections. It is our proud boast that we have enabled additions to the collections in every year since our formation, a claim no other independent supporter can make. Our members have also contributed their time and enthusiasm as volunteers in a wide range of roles.

Three recent examples of the range of support:-
In 2011 we commissioned an original installation, now suspended in the oculus beneath the Birmingham History galleries, in part to commemorate our 80th anniversary.
In 2015 the Friends were delighted to be one of four funders of the successful Mini Museum, specially designed to provide an attractive place for children under-5 to experience the city’s collections. Many of our members are grandparents and appreciate having such an engaging space to both entertain and educate our grandchildren.
In 2016 the Friends committed to donating a three-year annual grant of £15,000 as vital match funding to support the high profile Arts Council Collection National Partners programme of eight exhibitions to be held across Birmingham’s museums. The first exhibition Night in the Museum, an exhibition curated by leading British artist Ryan Gander at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s Gas Hall, was recently launched by Councillor Ian Ward and is proving very popular with a wide range of visitors including schools.

With this proud record of support, we do not wish to see our many decades of investment undermined at such a critical point in Birmingham Museums Trust’s development as a relatively new charity.
We recognise that this is a difficult time for Birmingham City Council, when your expenditure is constrained by the decisions of central government. But your proposed treatment of Birmingham Museums Trust is illogical and uncaring.

It is illogical since care of our city’s internationally important museum collections is a City responsibility. Since it was formed in 2012, Birmingham Museums Trust has cared for them effectively and responsibly. Visitor numbers have risen every year under the Trust’s stewardship reaching over 1 million to all museum sites. It is vital for Birmingham’s museums that you continue to pay the proper cost of meeting your obligation. Without a proper level of support the Trust will not be able to survive and thrive.
It is uncaring since you threaten to undermine the Trust’s conscientious adaption to the proposed £250,000 reduction to its budget in 2017/18 which you had requested. By suddenly tripling this reduction, by adding another £500,000, you are demonstrating a lack of care for the organisation which you had contracted to manage these world class collections.

Birmingham Museums Trust is an integral part of the city’s cultural offer. As well as visitors to the city and residents, there are nearly 1,400 school visits (which equated to 110,000 school children in 2016). Maintaining Birmingham Museums will enhance both the life of the local population and support tourism.

We urge you to restore the service charge you commit to pay to Birmingham Museums Trust in 2017/18 to the previously agreed level.

The Friends of Birmingham Museums”


World War One – unusual personal perspectives

(Show now closed: post retained as archive.)

As you amble through the galleries at BMAG, perhaps aiming for the Pre-Raphaelites or for the Staffordshire Hoard, your eyes might be drawn to the exhibition in Gallery 15. It tells the story of the 400,000 Muslim soldiers who fought in WW1,  and features personal stories and loans from relatives of those who served. It links historical research with personal testimony from Birmingham people whose Muslim relatives served in the First World War. This show runs until 5th March 2017.

There was a companion exhibition – Honouring Indian VC soldiers in WW1 – which ended on 28th January 2017. The Victoria Cross is Britain’s highest award for gallantry for soldiers, and has been awarded since 1856. Of the 1,358 medals ever awarded, 9 were to South Asian soldiers of the British Indian Army during WW1. This exhibition brought some of their stories, often unrecorded or unreported, to public gaze. The researchers ‘raided’ the archives of the National Army Museum to uncover letters from many of the South Asian soldiers. Although censored during the translation process they nevertheless reveal fascinating attitudes to their participation in the King-Emperor’s war.

Understanding more of these two groups illuminates many of the major political tensions in today’s world. It is a great privilege to see this unique material here in Birmingham.

posted by David Foster


Mechanical Things

(Show now closed: post retained as archive.)

If you still feel withdrawal symptoms after the closure of ‘The Wonderful World of Rowland Emett’ in the Gas Hall in September 2014, you’ll love ‘Mechanical Things’ at Thinktank, showing from December 1 2016 to Mar 5 2017. It includes some creations from the previous show with additional Emett ‘things’, including a recent rediscovery. And there’s a full-size Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. ccbb_small

But it goes further in displaying mechanical machines created by other gifted artists. Many of these are – unlike Emett – still working today. And most are British. I was particularly engaged by the detailed logic embodied in the cascading balls in the maze pictured here.


The much larger machine in the Science Garden outside does something superficially similar, but this device contains subtle logic which will challenge brains of all ages.

At preview I was assured that there will be additional activities to further delight younger visitors. Personally, I suspect that visitors of all ages will find delight here.

As a member of the Friends you can get into Thinktank, to see this show, for half the public charge!

posted by David Foster


Night in the Museum


(Show now closed: post retained as archive.)

This show closed on Sunday February 12, 2017 but was fun while it lasted.

Imagine what objects in a museum might look at, if they had a free choice. And how they would appear as they were looking. That’s what this show challenged you to imagine.

Some of the pairings appear bizarre, like the one above. Others are more natural, like the one below:pair1

The Friends can share the credit that this stimulating show ran in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery for nearly 3 months. Our contribution ensured that Birmingham Museums was selected by the Arts Council England as one of its four regional display partners.

The next show of this partnership scheme – “I Want! I Want” will be on display from April 1, 2017. If the first of the series is anything to go by, you won’t want to miss the next!

posted by David Foster