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Our History

Modern Art Oxford has a rich history of bold and progressive programming that promotes diversity and internationalism, encourages public engagement with creativity and the arts, and promotes the importance of contemporary visual culture in today’s society.

Trevor Green and a small group of modern art enthusiasts founded the Museum of Modern Art Oxford in late 1965, opening small shows with local art enthusiasts in a warehouse in King Edward Street. The museum’s primary aim was ‘the advancement of education of the general public in the modern visual arts’.

In September 1966, MoMa moved to a former brewery building on Pembroke Street which has been our home ever since. We updated our name in 2002 to become Modern Art Oxford, a change that better reflects our dynamic, changing programme of temporary exhibitions.

1960s

Space Place

1966

One of the earliest exhibitions at Modern Art Oxford, Maurice Agis and Peter Jones’ installation Space Place was to be the gallery’s first self-generated exhibition. In the words of art critic Andrew Forge, it declared the director’s intention to make the museum “a place where things can happen… music can be played or children can run about, people can talk.”

Light/Sound Workshop

1967

In late 1966, the Upper Gallery played host to an audio-visual spectacular presented by Light/ Sound Workshop. Combining projected slide sequences and Super 8 films, kinetic sculptures and experimental sound works, the idea was to produce a group of workshop experiments rather than a single, ‘finished’ installation. The Guardian wrote in 1967: "This is a psychedelic event, and it fills a real human need.”
1970s

POPA at MoMA: Pioneers of Part-Art

1971

The 'Participation Art' show POPA at MOMA opened, and unexpectedly closed, in a single evening. Organised by undergraduate members of the Oxford University Art Club, the idea was to present a ‘new genre of art’. Touchable installations and wearable objects such as capes and masks were designed to heighten awareness of the human body and encourage interaction between the artists and the gallery visitors. However, on opening night the largely undergraduate audience interacted a little more enthusiastically with the works than the artists had intended, so the artists withdrew their work and the show was closed.

Agnes Martin

1975

“Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings.” – Agnes Martin. On a Clear Day was the first exhibition by Agnes Martin (b. 1912 - d. 2004) at Modern Art Oxford. Her work was exhibited again in 1983, and was also featured as part of Kaleidescope in 2016, during the gallery’s 50th anniversary celebrations. One of the world’s most famous abstract artists, her meditative drawings and paintings favour lines, grids and simple shapes executed in pale washes of colour.

The Young in Art

1976

In 1976, The Young in Art was "the largest exhibition of young people’s art ever to be staged in Oxford". It featured over 900 exhibits from Oxfordshire primary and secondary schools and colleges and took over all three floors of the gallery.
1980s

India: Myth and Reality

1982

India: Myth and Reality was a season dedicated to contemporary India. Aspects of Modern Indian Art was the centrepiece of five exhibitions, which in turn coincided with the enormously ambitious nine-month Festival of India staged in London the same year. Unlike the official Festival however, which was a diplomatic collaboration between the governments of Margaret Thatcher and Indira Ghandi, MOMA’s programming was the result of a unique collaboration between the director David Elliott, celebrated Indian theatre director Ebrahim Alkazi, and British art dealer Victor Musgrave.

Robert Mapplethorpe 1970-1983

1984

Robert Mapplethorpe (b. 1946 - d. 1989) was an American photographer, best known for his black and white photographs. His subjects ranged from celebrity portraits, male and female nudes, self-portraits and still lives. The exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford showcased his work from 1970-1983.

Yayoi Kusama: Soul Burning Flashes

1989

Considered Japan’s greatest living artist, Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) exhibited at Modern Art Oxford in 1989. Her large scale colourful sculptures and paintings filled the Upper Gallery. Kusama’s work centres around repetitions of the same patterns. She says these stem from her dreams and hallucinations, transformed into obsessional images. She says: "My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease."
1990s

New Art from China Part 1: Silent Energy

1993

Silent Energy was part of a series of exhibitions called New Art From China showcasing contemporary art from China. In 1993, this marked the first time contemporary Chinese art was shown in the UK. The exhibition included the work of eight Chinese artists; Cai Guoqiang, Chen Zhen, Guan Wei, Gu Wenda, Huang Yongping, Wang Luyan, Xi Jianjun and Yang Jiechang. Each of these artists had played an important role within the Chinese Avant-Garde during the decade before the exhibition.

Marina Abramovic: Objects, Performance, Video, Sound

1995

Marina Abramović (b. 1946), the self-proclaimed 'grandmother of performance art', exhibited at Modern Art Oxford in 1995. The exhibition featured an installation of large sculptures, film work played on multiple television monitors, photographs and a series of performance pieces.

Mona Hatoum

1998

Born in Beirut to a Palestinian family, Mona Hatoum (b. 1952) has lived in London since 1975, when the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon delayed her return home from what was meant to be a short visit. She has said this “created a kind of dislocation” which manifests itself in her work. Challenging the movements of surrealism and minimalism, Hatoum makes work which explores the contradictions of our world. Her exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art Oxford featured a number of installations.

Yoko Ono: Have you seen the horizon lately?

1997

This major solo exhibition at the gallery of works by Yoko Ono (b. 1933) brought together photographs, performances, films, paintings and sound works spanning 38 years. Among these were a selection of Ono's ‘instruction paintings’, a series of typewritten guides inviting the viewer to participate in the work either through their imagination or through physical enactments.
2000s

Tracey Emin: This is Another Place

2002

This exhibition of works by British artist Tracey Emin (b. 1963) marked our name change from the Museum of Modern Art Oxford to Modern Art Oxford. It was Emin’s first British exhibition since 1997 and drew together the artist's now iconic neon wall hangings, drawings, etchings, film works, and a large scale sculpture installation of a pier and shack made from reclaimed timber.

Jake and Dinos Chapman: The Rape of Creativity

2003

The Rape of Creativity introduced audiences to works by Jake Chapman (b. 1966) and Dinos Chapman (b. 1962), often known as the Chapman Brothers. The catalogue of the exhibition included a leaflet titled JAKE AND DINOS CHAPMAN: INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE, a five-page spread dripping with sarcasm and playing on the ‘shock tactics’ critical to the viewing condition of the brothers’ work, for example: "Health warning: The contents of this exhibition may cause shock, vomiting, confusion, panic, euphoria and anxiety. If you suffer from high blood pressure, a nervous disorder or palpitations you should consult your doctor before viewing this exhibition."

Mike Nelson: Triple Bluff Canyon

2004

Mike Nelson (b. 1967) is known for his large-scale installations made up of sequences of meticulously constructed, interconnecting rooms that suggest real or imagined spaces. Triple Bluff Caynon was Nelson's first solo exhibition in the UK since 2001. Nelson’s work tells stories that merge real and fictional experience. Through his structures we discover references to the literary constructions of William Burroughs, Jorg Luis Borges, the Strugatsky Brothers and Stanislav Lem, as well as more general tales of piracy, survival and desertion.
2010s

Jenny Saville

2012

Tracing her work from the early nineties to 2012, and including new works made specifically for Modern Art Oxford, this exhibition was first solo show in a UK public institution of the work of Jenny Saville (b. 1970). The exhibition presented a compelling, provocative and unflinchingly visceral body of work by one of Britain's most important contemporary painters.

Jeremy Deller: Love is Enough

2014

This exhibition drew together iconic and rarely seen works by two giants of the 19th and 20th centuries, William Morris and Andy Warhol. This unconventional combination of artists’ work was curated by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller who cites Morris and Warhol as his two greatest artistic influences.

Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies

2017

Invisible Strategies was the first major survey exhibition by British artist Lubaina Himid. Bringing together paintings from the 1980s to the present day, as well as sculptures, ceramics and works on paper, this exhibition highlighted Himid’s consistently thought-provoking and distinctive visual style.