FEATHERS were flying at Modern Art Oxford this week over its new exhibit, featuring a pair of peacocks in a gilded cage.

While the live peacocks were held up as the focal point of an imaginative piece by the gallery, some visitors complained about birds being caged for the sake of art.

And they accused MAO of making the two peacocks suffer in a misguided bid to stretch the boundaries of art.

The peacocks are featured in The Need for Uncertainty exhibition by the highly regarded Romanian artist Mircea Cantor. But a number of visitors complained that the gilded cage was tarnishing the gallery's reputation.

One upset visitor, Lydia Heade, told The Oxford Times: "Modern Art Oxford has two peacocks trapped in a cage and is suggesting that this constitutes art. But since when is animal cruelty art?"

About 50 other visitors to the exhibition in Pembroke Street also raised concerns or questioned staff about the peacocks' welfare.

But MAO director Andrew Nairne said the RSPCA had seen the exhibit and had raised no objections about it going ahead with the live birds.

He said: "We have been extremely responsible. We checked with the city council and everyone we needed to in order to ensure the birds' welfare.

"The birds are two years old and come from a peacock farm in Norfolk. They are not wild."

The birds will be kept in the golden 5m high cage until the beginning of June. The floor is covered with wood chippings, with a handwoven carpet with motifs of angels and aeroplanes above on the ceiling.

The Need For Uncertainty exhibition being held in MAO's Upper Gallery has so far attracted 5,000 visitors.

The director said: "Our role is to challenge people and get them to think.

"People expect to come here to see something different. We work with the best artists in the world to do that. Mircea Cantor has created something beautiful and magical.

"We are an art gallery not a zoo. And we are not setting any great precedent here. Art can happen in any medium and occasionally it involves animals."

Cantor's previous work includes a video Deeparture XRIGHT, which records the meeting of a deer and a wolf in a pristine white gallery space.

MAO Senior Curator, Suzanne Cotter, said: "Cantor's poetic use of materials, images, animals and places offers an eloquent meditation of our contemporary world and the human condition."

The Need for Uncertainty has been funded by the Natioanl Lottery and supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute.