I’ve always felt that small galleries are a vital distraction. Smaller is better because it limits the number of artworks on show. This not only serves to highlight individual pieces, rather than being lost in a large exhibition, but also means that a visit can be short. Instead of spending a whole day in a gallery (as many larger galleries deserve), smaller showrooms can be visited as a break during the day. Perhaps it is symptomatic of the fast-paced, pre-packaged digital age that this appeals to me, but a brief change of scenery and atmosphere can be a great thing.
The O3 gallery inhabits part of the old Oxford Prison C-Wing, a single round room in the Oxford Castle Quarter. While post-industrial locations are hugely in fashion for galleries, the bare brick walls and brutal nature of the dungeon goes far beyond this concept. Instead of being used as comment, the room creates a unique rough-hewn aesthetic that nicely highlights the artwork on show. Boasting an elaborate system of wires, all artworks are suspended around the room rather than mounted on the walls, offering more interesting exhibiting space. However this arrangement falls down due to the inadequate lighting. Either the bulbs are not powerful enough, or the art is too far beneath them, but during my visit I found it difficult to fully appreciate colours and details. The room is split into two levels, both of which feature art and can be hired for private functions, making a memorable event. On the upper level is a small area with items on sale. More than a typical gift shop, local artists are given the opportunity to sell smaller prints on cards, bags and little artworks, an ideal place to pick up a novel present.
The proliferation of small galleries in Oxford points not to an oversaturation, but to a supportive and encouraging artistic community in the city. The variation of artistic styles and genres found is an indicator of the relevance and popularity of visual media in Oxford, and its continued support. The O3 is one example of such a gallery, with a spectacular setting and loads of potential for creative use of space. With such a central location and a great atmosphere, there really is no excuse not to pay a visit.