Pull into Sheffield station, head up the slope towards the centre, and the city's flagship art institution sits waving a friendly welcome. Millennium Gallery is the cultural gateway to Sheffield, with exhibitions showcasing everything from excellent international exhibitions to timelines of local creativity, and a well-trodden avenue that leads straight into the beautiful Winter Garden beyond.
Millennium Gallery is the younger sibling to the Graves Gallery, just round the corner. The former leans more to the modern side of art than the latter, but the two siblings get on very well – and you can quite handily hop from one to the other for a lesson in a few hundred centuries' worth of art history.
Millennium Gallery's large-scale shows have, in recent years, included everything from international haute couture to a private postmodern collection featuring the likes of Do Ho Suh, Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin. It has just as frequently taken curatorial inspiration from the city itself, with a sonic installation mapping Sheffield from its very edges to its centre, a showcase of extraordinary objects from this city of makers, and an exploration into how its current crop of artists use movement in their work.
Metal is intrinsic to Millennium Gallery's two permanent displays – unsurprisingly so, given that it has been one of the key players in Sheffield's cultural heritage going back centuries. In the Metalwork Collection you'll find shiny fruits of industry produced in Sheffield and beyond – from old knives, forks and tableware marked "Made in Sheffield" to a tureen shaped like a turtle, made for serving up soup to fancy Victorians. Little mesters (small-scale specialist craftspeople) may be less ubiquitous in the city than they once were, but a new generation of independent makers are continuing their tradition, and the collection showcases the industry's glinting present as much as its past with pieces by the likes of David Mellor Design.
The Ruskin Collection, meanwhile, owes its existence to the lofty social conviction of Victorian aesthete John Ruskin. In 1875 Ruskin opened a museum in a cottage in the suburb of Walkey. He wanted to educate and inspire Sheffield's metalworkers by showing them patterns, colours, textures and sights of a wider world that they had no other way of accessing. With a rotating display of objects, the gallery maintains this dedication to making the huge collection accessible to this day; at any one time, it can put on show colourful prints of exotic birds, botanic illustrations, diagrams of Gothic architecture, antique manuscripts, and glimmering minerals.
Alongside all the art and artefacts, Millennium Gallery is home to a bright cafe downstairs, an enticing gift shop upstairs (which also happens to stock our guidebooks, prints and tours), and a lively programme of events – everything from lunchtime talks to life drawing, plus the regular after-hours Live Late socials that usually involve interactive installations, live music and beer.
- Words by
- Kathryn Hall
- Images by
- Nigel Barker