As I ride my bike around Oxford I happen across many interesting things, from boutique chair shops to pop-up taxidermists. The Oxford Visual Arts Development Agency is one of such finds, a curious, and well hidden, wealth of artistic potential.
Situated behind the Oxford Castle, OVADA occupies an old warehouse and has retained the industrial decor. This follows recent fashions in contemporary art spaces, but also reflects OVADA's emphasis on art production. They offer several studio spaces for hire and host a range of art classes throughout the year. The industrial backdrop situates art as work, highlighting the vibrancy of artistic creation and attempting to place the art within a societal (and 'authentic') context, contrasted with the clinical distance offered by more mainstream galleries. The peeling paint and bare brick fades into the background allowing pieces in exhibitions to shine and be displayed without distraction, while the original ceiling windows shine down on different pieces throughout the day in a seemingly deliberately way.
The gallery is fairly small, but the purpose-built Grey Area allows for exhibitions to be extended beyond the main warehouse, meaning that although shows are compact in size, they are arranged in a variety of spaces, with installations shaped to suit different environments. As a venue, OVADA is also available to hire for specific events, or non-art shows wishing to be situated in this interesting space.
Overall, OVADA is unassuming and self effacing as a venue - the only public facility is a toilet - but this enhances the artworks, making exhibitions striking. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, as evident through their immaculate curation if not their manner, and are happy to discuss the art on show. Despite the initial appearance of a tatty warehouse hidden behind a block of flats, the gallery is a gem and a valuable source of contemporary art in Oxford.