Oxford – home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world – is a city steeped in history and culture. It is, after all, home to three world-class museums – The Ashmolean, Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum – and numerous libraries and places of historic interest.
But the city also boasts several contemporary arts venues that showcase exciting and innovative work by emerging and established artists. It has a thriving contemporary arts scene, and there are always new and exciting exhibitions and events to discover – making it a rich and vibrant destination for anyone interested in the arts.
But first, let’s define what we mean by contemporary art.
In its most basic sense, contemporary art refers to the art produced in the present time or in recent years, usually starting from the late 1960s to the present day. It is characterised by its diverse range of styles, forms, and media and is often a reflection of the social, political, and cultural issues of the time.
Contemporary art can include various forms of visual art, such as painting, sculpture, installation, performance art, video art, and digital art. It also encompasses other creative fields, such as architecture, design, and fashion.
Contemporary art often involves emerging artists looking to establish themselves in the art world. Many are known for their innovative use of technology and multimedia, creating interactive and immersive experiences for viewers. They may also engage with current social, political, and cultural issues in their art.
These artists often explore new forms, styles, and media, and some of their work can be experimental and provocative – one of the defining characteristics of contemporary art is its emphasis on conceptualisation and experimentation, often challenging traditional aesthetic standards and artistic conventions.
And now, our pick of the contemporary arts venues in Oxford.
Modern Art Oxford is a leading contemporary art gallery in Oxford that showcases contemporary visual art exhibitions and events. It’s also home to a permanent collection of over 300 works by artists such as Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, and Sol LeWitt.
Modern Art Oxford’s program includes a range of media, including painting, sculpture, photography, film, and performance art. The gallery also offers a range of educational programs, including talks, tours, and workshops, aimed at engaging audiences with contemporary art and fostering creative dialogue.
Built in 1896 as a fire station (hence the name) and converted into a multi-purpose arts venue in 2011, The Old Fire Station is a contemporary arts centre that hosts a range of exhibitions, performances, and events featuring the work of local, national, and international artists.
The theatre space hosts a range of performances, including plays, dance shows, and music concerts, while the dance studio offers a variety of classes and workshops in different styles of dance. This vibrant and dynamic cultural hub in Oxford is also home to Crisis Skylight Oxford, a charity supporting people who are homeless.
The North Wall Arts Centre is a multi-disciplinary contemporary arts venue situated on the campus of St Edward’s School – a leading independent school in Summertown, just north of the city centre.
The venue comprises a 200-seat theatre, a gallery space, and a café/bar and hosts a year-round program of contemporary arts events and a range of performances, including plays, dance shows, music concerts, and visual art exhibitions – especially by emerging artists. It also offers a range of educational opportunities for young people.
With a 130-seat theatre, a dance studio, and a café/bar, the Pegasus Theatre hosts a diverse program of contemporary arts, including theatre productions, dance performances, comedy shows, music concerts, and exhibitions of visual art. It was established in 1962 and is one of the oldest and most respected theatres in Oxford.
In addition to its arts programming, The Pegasus Theatre offers a range of educational opportunities for young people. The venue runs a youth theatre program, which provides training and performance opportunities for aspiring actors and theatre-makers. The dance studio offers classes and workshops in various dance styles, including ballet, contemporary, and street dance.
OVADA (Oxford Visual Arts Development Agency) is an artist-led contemporary art space that provides studio spaces, workshops, and exhibition opportunities for artists in Oxfordshire. It was established in 2001 by a group of local artists who wanted to create a space where artists could work, collaborate, and exhibit their work.
OVADA’s Warehouse Gallery is a large, flexible space that hosts solo and group exhibitions by local and international artists. The warehouse space is also ideal for photoshoots and as a filming location. In addition to presenting a programme of contemporary art exhibitions in its gallery space, OVADA runs several workshops, events, and professional development opportunities for artists.