The ICA: Exhibitionists?

By Rachel Levitt Slade | Boston Magazine |

AND YET, I BELIEVE the ICA still has the power to be at the vanguard, if only it would take itself seriously. And there are signs it will. Hopes abound for Helen Molesworth, the new chief curator who arrived last year by way of the esteemed Wexner Center for the Arts and Harvard Art Museum — and not the least of that hope comes from Medvedow herself. Molesworth, Medvedow told the Globe, “is known for ambitious shows where she tries to put her arm around art that’s new but to also better help us understand where that art came from. Those shows are harder to do, they’re a bigger risk, and they cost more. But when they work, they are exhibitions that become part of the history of art.” Remarks like that suggest Medvedow knows the museum’s past five years weren’t game-changing in the way they could have been. That’s a start.

And those in a position to know say that Molesworth has the vigor to think on her own. Unlike her predecessors, she’s got a serious body of scholarly inquiry to suggest that she’s the real deal. If so, her energy may well give the museum the confidence to look outside itself, to empower the city’s hopeful artists, and to celebrate the ideas that kick us in the gut and make us ponder. Successful movements don’t happen in isolation, after all, or by playing safe. That pretty, lonely box on the waterfront could actually find itself with allies even more powerful than the local moneyed class that built it. And the real payoff will be in the kind of vibrant, contentious, noisy, and invigorated art scene our city deserves.

  • Blaxidermy

    Waah waah waaah

  • rob

    I actually agree about the Fairey and Dr. Lakra shows, but this reads like a screed by a frustrated architect. It really took you 15 minutes to figure out how to get inside the building? And you’re admitting that? In print?

  • Kenneth

    How dare Boston Magazine, a Boston institution, attack the ICA, another Boston institution. Not nice! Don’t they know that artists are sensitive, well-meaning people, whose feelings are easily hurt?

  • Jon

    For someone who has to “negotiate” a cross walk, I’m not surprised she had difficulty with finding the entrance.

  • Jon

    Glass doors can be confusing. So can the glass elevator. I thought people were flying.

  • Chico

    I knew there was something that bothered me about that place since the hyped Fairey exhib. They just seem to show trite stuff at the ICA.

  • Alexander

    I would have to agree with the author. The first time I went to the ICA I could not find the door to get in. What? Boston gets a building with a ton of wasted volume for what? All of you who know nothing about architecture consider it beautiful to look at simply because it is so “different” than all the other buildings in the city. ICA needs some major changes.

  • A

    It’s too bad that this author defeats some of her legitimate points about the low-quality of the Fairey exhibitions by reeling off a litany of clichés about contemporary art. The YBAs aren’t causing a ruckus anymore and when they were it was all manufactured. That’s hack writing, which was confirmed by the summation that “that’s the job of contemporary art: to piss us off” If that’s truly the author’s feeling she’s out of touch.

  • Carolyn

    I agree the ICA has had its eyes too closely on the $$ for some time now — anyone remember the awful “Design Life Now” from 2008? But still, it’s an institution. You have to play your cards right to be an artist that gets to be famous enough to be in the ICA — it’s not always bad, but it can also make things less avant garde. If you want to find something really out there, visit open studios or go to emerging shows.

  • Carolyn

    I think you’re right about the front door. I could find it, but every time I go I think about how fugly the entrance is. I actually think the building is really beautiful, but that parking lot needs some HELP. Even just a walkway to the front door would be a good first step (and it sounds silly, but repave the parking lot!)

  • Barbara

    Last month the ICA was being criticized for showing work that had been banned from the National Portrait Gallery; now the author says the ICA’s art is too safe. OK, I agree that the building has issues and Fairey is lame, but the ICA has succeeded in pulling a diverse public into an art museum, and if critics are arguing about the art inside, I think that means they’re doing something right.

  • Dave

    Three years after it opened, the ICA still seems like the little jewel box on the sea in the middle of nowhere. My friends and I agree that its location is its most alienating aspect. I’ll agree that it has yet to find a curatorial voice among the other Boston museums and in the larger pool of similar institutions. Fairey was a low point for some, but it got people in the building and it was a decent retrospective because the visuals were nice. (I admit that my respect for Fairey’s art went up only after I saw EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP long after the ICA show closed.) The sleep-inducing Foster Prize is also an easy target, as is their lackluster permanent collection. On the other hand Tara Donovan, Damien Ortega, Charles LeDray and the recently-closed Mark Bradford were each stellar shows.

    I know that there are a lot of people working very hard over there, particularly in programming and education. If the ICA’s exhibits have failed to be as provocative or inspiring as some would like, maybe a shakeup in leadership is in order.

  • Stephen

    I particularly liked “Adding to the challenge, to get true art benefactors you need a thriving art scene, which Boston notoriously lacks. In spite of our excellent art colleges, the city’s comparative dearth of galleries, museums, and community support tends to send working artists packing.”
    Having lived near Hartford for years, I know what an art-deprived area is. Boston is not such an area.

  • Jen

    The ICA is definitely cool.

  • John

    Yes, Boston needs its art booty shaken up. But I wonder if Ms. Levitt Slade has seen all of the ICA’s exhibitions in the last several years. I would hesitate to call the new ICA’s exhibition program as merely safe. There have been more provocative shows such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s brilliant suite of large-scale photographs of “dancers” posing on stripper poles with all their goodies showing. The words “contemporary” and “provocative” do not have to only mean offensive to middle America or loud or aggressive. Contemporary art can rage quietly and poetically in such artists as the lovely Tara Donovan and the shiny yet seductive sheen Anish Kapoor, both intelligently edited and installed by team ICA in recent years.