Like many other students, I walk past the Barber Institute every day without thinking about it. However, it’s far more than just another building; a piece in the landscape between me and my lectures. The building is a beautiful example of art-deco architecture, which was designed by Robert Atkinson in the 1930s, and is classed as Grade II listed. However, its inside, in the galleries, exhibitions and concert hall, that the Barber Institute really reveals itself to be a cultural gem.
I visited the gallery for the first time a few weeks ago, and it’s safe to say I’ll be back. Unlike the often bustling Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Barber Institute’s gallery is quiet, creating a calm atmosphere in which busy students can take a few minutes to just be still, and think about art instead of deadlines. The gallery itself boasts a fantastic range of major paintings, including work by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, as well as sculpture, drawings and prints.
The temporary exhibitions and displays in the gallery were also interesting. The abstract art exhibition, ‘Change, Order, Change’ , reviewed here by Redbrick Culture critic Eric Barrell, is extremely different to the rest of the art in the gallery, and certainly for me contained the most challenging art I saw during my visit. ‘Inheriting Rome: The Imperial Legacy in Coinage and Culture’ was a fascinating display of Roman coins, detailing the individuals depicted on each coin as well as how they relate to the history of the Roman Empire.
‘Into the Woods’ (on display until 12th June) is an absolutely beautiful collection of prints and drawings which focus on trees, woods and forests as their primary subject matter. The display brings together work from all over the world, and the detailed drawings highlight the intricacy of the foliage in an exacting way that would be impossible to achieve using the medium of painting.
The Barber Institute is also renowned for its concerts. The venue is small and intimate, which makes for a much more personal experience than attending a concert at the Elgar Concert Hall. During University term time, the Institute holds ‘Barber Lunchtime Concerts’, which usually take place on Friday at 1.10pm. These concerts are free to attend and last approximately an hour. From Chinese Classical music to Jazz and Blues, the range of music on offer is extraordinary. They are the perfect way to explore different genres of music without committing to buying a ticket and wasting away your student loan.
So overall, I hope I’ve managed to persuade you that the Barber Institute of Fine Arts is somewhere well worth visiting. Take a revision break one afternoon, and discover beautiful brushwork, abstract art, Roman history and chamber music. Whilst costing you absolutely nothing, a visit to the Barber Institute certainly has a substantial cultural value.
This article was originally published on the Redbrick News website, 28th April 2016.