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50 years of Modern Art Oxford

Modern Art Oxford is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a year long celebration of many of its most iconic exhibitions that have returned, rebooted or modernised. Here's why you'd better not miss it.


Have you been to Modern Art Oxford? I’m amazed by the number of people who still don’t know it exists. True, it’s down a little side street to the side of the Westgate Centre, so you’re unlikely to stumble across it by accident, but it’s really worth searching out – and by ‘searching out’ what I mean is, walking 30 seconds from Cornmarket! It’s that central.


Modern Art Oxford is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a year long celebration of many of its most iconic exhibitions that have returned, rebooted or modernised, along with a slew of new artists too. Because there are so many exhibitions to fit in, MAO is having to take down one show as another is put up, which makes an interesting viewing as they are making it part of the celebrations rather than trying to hide the metamorphosis from one show to another. The day I visited, workmen with ladders were installing Gustav Metzger Liquid Crystal Environment projection, and visitors were invited to look through the glass at their progress.

I greatly enjoy modern art without claiming to understand too much of it so I’ll let the art do the talking here!






My personal fave on the day was Yoko Ono’s Painting to Hammer a Nail (1961) which invites visitors to to hammer a nail into her evolving art work. When all the spaces on the white canvas are full, it’s shipped back to Ono’s archive, so that you can legitimately claim to have been involved in one of her artworks! As someone who has not only nil points in artistic talent but possibly into the minuses, let me tell you that’s a thrill.
But there was also this fantastic large-scale work by Jac Leirner, All Together Now (1991).


In 1990, she spent three months in Oxford working as an artist-in-residence gathering hundreds of leafletswhich she built up into the spectacular All Together Now. She called it an “appreciation of the commonplace” and it’s a brilliant Nineties cultural snapshot, complete with this joy of an advert.

I’m sure you’re getting the picture with this exhibition. But just talking generally I find the MAO space really relaxing and enjoyable – it’s really light, white and with wonderfully high ceilings in the main gallery . There’s also a really lovely cafe on the ground floor (which you can hire out apparently) plus a groovy art/design style shop for knick-knacks, so you an easily spend a very pleasurable hour here before getting on with your shopping or heading across the road to Christchurch Meadows.

As ever let me know if you go, what you think, and whether we’re now official hammer and nail co-artists!

Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke St, Oxford OX1 1BP. Tel: 01865 722733. Please note the gallery is closed on Mondays.





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