The Institute of Contemporary Art unleashes a six month-long rotating exhibit tonight that looks back at 50 years of groundbreaking contemporary exhibitions, entitled ICA@50: Pleasing Artists and Publics Since 1963. This ever-changing, amoebic presentation is a collection of micro-exhibitions, each inspired by a particular moment in time at the ICA and each created by hand-selected artists. Chief curator Ingrid Schaffner and her four-person team have been working with 58 artists to bring their shape-shifting, time-honoring exhibition to life.
The collaborative concept emerges from Schaffner’s dream of creating a show that mirrors an evolving conversation about art, with each participant offering up his or her own personal experience as a way of understanding it all. The show will come to life in a variety of forms throughout its run inside ICA’s unique wide-open second floor gallery space, as its dense programming schedule highlights a new historical exhibit every other week. Each featured artwork will be presented in the center of the room for a couple of weeks, then will move to one of the surrounding walls, making room for the next display, and so on. Once the work has moved to the walls, the curators will slowly remove the pieces until only a few—and then none—remain.
“The wonderful thing about this show,” assistant curator Kate Kraczon says while touring the space, “is that we have the person-power to explore the archives and really talk to the artists.” She gestures toward a 50-foot-long table covered in dozens of small piles of materials from their archives. Each one of these piles represented a moment in ICA’s history waiting to be re-imagined by one of the 58 artists involved with making this show.
An article on the ICA blog Miranda explains that, by focusing on new work for ICA@50, “the past becomes not a fetish but a springboard, a catalyst, a point of departure.” It’s this attitude that holds together, in exciting harmony, what could have been a dull cacophony of disjointed voices.
One such voice is that of Linda Yun, a Philadelphia-based artist the curators have wanted to work with “for years,” says Kraczon. “She does these very delicate, gentle, minimal gestures. For me, it was just the language of her work that connected with a 1967 ICA show called Romantic Minimalism. It was this perfect link to Linda’s work.” For the ICA@50 show, Yun will utilize “spaces that other artists don’t think of as part of the gallery,” covering all ceiling windows inside the giant space with thick bands of colorful streamers, doubling as playful celebration for the 50th anniversary.
Another example is the presentation that program curator Alex Klein is organizing in response to the 1976 Joan Jonas performance, Stage Sets. Since ICA has nothing more than the show’s program in its archive, Klein had to reach out to David Dempewolf and Yuka Yokoyama, owners of Philadelphia gallery Marginal Utility, who work with Jonas. “They helped connect Alex directly with the artist, and now we have all this information about that 1976 performance to inspire a new video and installation work by Vishal Jugdeo,” Kraczon says. “And Joan is going to come speak.”
In addition to what’s happening in the gallery, five Philadelphia artists are taking over ICA’s Instagram account for 50 days in response to 1980–81’s Street Sights exhibitions. Says Kraczon: “We think of what’s happening inside ICA and what’s happening online to be all part of the same thing.” What all this means is if you stop by the ICA—or check its website—twice a month until August, you’ll see new artwork every time. “It’s all about unlocking our history through contemporary art and through working with the artists that the curatorial staff has always wanted to work with here.”
Continuing its theme of embracing the unknown, tonight’s opening is set to feature Questlove and DJ PHSH manning the ones and twos. Be sure to step into the ICA ready to party.
Wed., Feb. 12, 6:30pm. Free. Through Aug. 17. Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St. 215.898.7108. icaphila.org