After 23 years Jonathan Watkins, the director of Birmingham’s contemporary art gallery Ikon, is stepping down in October.
Since joining in 1999, Watkins has led the organisation, helping to boost its worldwide reputation and develop its programme while maintaining its policy of free entry.
In 2005 Ikon introduced historical exhibitions to assert the contemporary relevance of art from the past. Such interventions in the programme will culminate this year with the first ever UK show of work by Renaissance artist Carlo Crivelli. The exhibition is the result of Watkins winning the inaugural Ampersand Foundation Award granted for the realisation of a “curatorial dream”.
Watkins also instigated an off-site programme, which includes Slow Boat, a canal boat curated by the Ikon Youth Programme since 2010, and an artists’ residency programme at HMP Grendon.
In 2015 Watkins oversaw Ikon’s 50th year celebrations and established the Ikon Investment Fund, safeguarding the gallery’s future programming and artwork commissions.
During his time as director, Watkins also enhanced the gallery’s profile through his curatorial work for major exhibitions abroad, including the 2006 Shanghai Biennale, the 2007 Sharjah Biennial, Guangzhou Triennial in 2013 and Manif d’art 9 Quebec City Biennial in 2019. He also curated the Iraq Pavilion for the Venice Biennale in 2013.
Before taking up his role at Ikon, Watkins had been the director of Chisenhale Gallery, London, and artistic director of the 1998 Biennale of Sydney.
Following his departure from Ikon, Watkins will continue working as an independent curator on international art projects, while remaining an important advocate and patron of Ikon.
Watkins said: “Ikon is an organisation stronger than ever as it emerges from these interesting times, continuing to provide free entry to all exhibitions while being financially resilient. My successor will have the pleasure of working with a team of people who could not be more committed, professional and personable, in a city that could not be more welcoming. I wish them well.”
Ikon welcomes more than 200,000 visitors each year, with more than 75% of its audience aged between 16 to 44.