Oliver Botar was born in Toronto of Hungarian refugee parents and raised in Northern Ontario and Edmonton. He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in urban geography at the University of Alberta in Edmonton; and a Master of Science in urban and regional planning at the University of Toronto. He then completed first an MA and then a Ph.D. in art history at the University of Toronto.
He has taught modern and contemporary art and architectural history at several Canadian universities, with a focus on art in new/alternative media, Modernism between the world wars and curatorial practice. In 1996 he began teaching modern art history at the University of Manitoba and was appointed Professor in 2011. His research, writing and exhibition curating have focused on early-to-mid-20th-century art, architecture, photography and media art, with particular emphases on the early 20th-century Hungarian avant-garde. The nexus of Biocentrism and Modernism and the art and ideas of László Moholy-Nagy have been focuses throughout his career. He has lectured and has curated exhibitions in Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.
He has published numerous articles, encyclopedia articles and book chapters and has held several major research grants and fellowships, including SSHRC Insight grants, at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal and the Institut für Literaturwissenschaft in Berlin. His other books and exhibitions include: Technical Detours: The Early Moholy-Nagy Reconsidered, shown at and published by The Graduate Center – CUNY, 2006 and the Janus Pannonius Museum, Pécs, as well as the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest; Biocentrism and Modernism (Isabel Wünsche, co-editor), Ashgate, 2011; and Sensing the Future: Moholy-Nagy, Media and the Arts, shown at Plug In ICA Winnipeg and at the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin in 2014-15. An accompanying book was published in English and German editions by Lars Müller in Zurich. At the Winnipeg Art Gallery he curated Starting with Rodin in 2016-17. He has also worked on Canadian art, publishing A Bauhäusler in Canada: Andor Weininger in the 50s (2009), An Art at the Mercy of Light: Works by Eli Bornstein (2013), and several articles, including an article for two exhibition publications at the McMichael Canadian Art Centre. He has been invited to contribute many lectures and articles in 2019, the centennial year of the founding of the Bauhaus, and curated the exhibition “Bauhaus (Canada) 101” at the University of Manitoba School of Art Gallery in 2020.
He has been involved with Hungarian Studies since the 1980s, and is past President of the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada. He is currently working on a book on art in Winnipeg/Treaty One Territory. Botar lives and works in Winnipeg.