It may look traditional from the outside, located as it is in a Victorian school building, but Birmingham's Ikon gallery is anything but. As one of the country's pioneering regional galleries, it has played a key role in the career development of many contemporary artists from Cornelia Parker to Dennis Oppenheim. Next year marks its 50th anniversary, and to celebrate, it has a bumper line-up for the year ahead, kicking off with an exhibition by British artist David Tremlett (spanning into the New Year) and calling on some of the artists it holds dear to create new works that will go on show in the gallery's Tower Room throughout 2014.
This week, Tremlett's '3 Drawing Rooms' covers the gallery with his signature site-specific wall drawings and geometric patterns, in situ until April. The installation, made using pastel pigment applied by hand, raises the viewer's awareness of the space surrounding them. His show will be swiftly followed by Kurdish artist Jamal Penjweny's first solo show, who will exhibit film and photography, including his series 'Saddam is Here', which garnered critical acclaim at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
As the gallery's milestone year unfolds, Michel François, Lee Bul, Imran Qureshi, AK Dolven and Nástio Mosquito will all take part in a blockbuster exhibition programme, while 'Ikon 1980s' - a survey of the gallery's activities from 1978-1989 - promises to be a summer highlight. But key to next year's programme is 'Ikon Icons', which will see five previously exhibiting artists from across as many decades return to the gallery to exhibit work, culminating 50 years of the gallery's success.
Birmingham-born photorealist painter John Salt was the first artist to exhibit at Ikon, in 1964, when it occupied a kiosk in the Bull Ring shopping centre. He will kick off the celebrations by representing the 1960s. Salt is followed by Ian Emes, who is best known for his film animations for Pink Floyd during the 1970s. Cornelia Parker, who studied in Wolverhampton, was supported throughout the 1980s by the gallery (which showed her seminal work 'Thirty Pieces of Silver' 1988), making her an apt representative for that decade. Meanwhile, British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, whose 'Victorian Philanthropist's Parlour' was shown at Ikon in 1996, stands for the 1990s, and Julian Opie represents the millennium.
'Ikon is renowned for its internationalism,' says the gallery director Jonathan Watkins, 'and the 50th anniversary programme will include artists who are just starting to emerge and those from other parts of the world as well as the UK.' At the end of 2014, Ikon will unveil a bronze sculpture by Gillian Wearing sited outside the Library of Birmingham. Entitled 'A Real Birmingham Family', it features two glamorous sisters of Asian ethnicity with their sons. Ikon's 1980s icon, Cornelia Parker says: 'What Jonathan is doing is brilliant. He's doing it before everyone else; bringing it back to Birmingham.'