ARTIST ROOMS: Anthony d’Offay and Paul Hobson in Conversation at Pembroke

17th December 2015

Nathalie Kantaris Díaz, chair of the Pembroke College JCR Art Fund Collection, reflects on Anthony D'Offay's visit to Pembroke.

"On 1st December 2015, we were delighted to welcome the British art collector, curator and former gallerist Anthony D’Offay to Pembroke College, in an event organized by Dame Lynne Brindley, Master of the College. D’Offay had been invited to give a talk in Pembroke’s Pichette auditorium about a unique and inspiring initiative called ARTIST ROOMS (a touring collection of fifty rooms of contemporary art) that he set up in 2001, after closing his own (very successful) contemporary art gallery.

The talk took the form of an interactive conversation with friend and Director of nearby Modern Art Oxford, Paul Hobson, about D’Offay’s own life, his ideas about the role of art in society, his inspirations, achievements and up-coming projects. This informal conversation format allowed the audience to gain a more personal and poignant insight into the life of such an inspiring individual, leading on to questions from the floor to wrap up the talk, resulting in a strong sense of audience involvement. The event was free and open to all, and we were thrilled to see such a great turnout on the day.  

Pembroke College’s student-run JCR Art Fund was also particularly attracted by the idea of hosting D’Offay at Pembroke, since we felt that his artistic interests fit very closely with ours. D’Offay’s former gallery focused on twentieth-century contemporary and abstract British art (precisely the focus of Pembroke’s own art collection). ARTIST ROOMS also takes modern and contemporary art as its main focus, yet includes a range of international as well as British artists, including such influential names as Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, among many others.

After managing to build up such an impressive collection of art, D’Offay then donated it all to the TATE and the National Galleries of Scotland in 2008, with the idea that the collection belonged to the entirety of the British public. He repeatedly stressed the importance of the idea of art as a collective experience in his talk: the art world should not be an exclusive bubble, rather it should be available to all, as it is precisely created for being seen and shared.

D’Offay explained how his strong opinions were shaped by his own experiences as a child at museums in Leicester and Edinburgh, and gave the example of his early obsession with a Francis Bacon painting (Lying Figure No.1) on display in his local museum in Leicester, a painting that quite literally determined the course of his life. He described how he was inexplicably drawn to the painting, completely fascinated by it, despite not knowing completely why. This was his first encounter with the silent power of art: its mysteries, its power of suggestion, its hidden transcendental nature. Had he not had this art readily available to him whenever he wished to contemplate it, he may well have led a very different life.

D'Offay's aim has therefore always been to provide these opportunities of easy exposure to art for the wider British public, so that we too can acknowledge its potential to develop personalities, open new horizons, and provide comfort and solace. The ARTIST ROOMS initiative adopts as one of its primary aims making the best in contemporary art accessible to young people. During its existence, 143 exhibitions have been held in 75 museums and galleries all over the UK, attracting 34 million visitors, and allowing 600,000 children and students to have taken part in learning programmes so far.

Our JCR Art Fund was very inspired by this idea, and want to look into setting up similar initiatives of our own involving local Oxford schools, in order to share our own art collection with the wider community. In fact, we hope sometime in the near future to be able to exhibit one of the artist rooms in our very own Pembroke gallery!

We would like to thank Anthony D’Offay again for such an interesting and motivating talk."

Anthony D'Offay (right) with Paul Hobson of Modern Art Oxford
Images by Tim Brindley