The ICA Debuts Its Largest Collection Presentation

First Light: A Decade of Collecting at the ICA honors the museum's move to the waterfront.

ica first light

1st Light, 2005 © 2016 Paul Chan / Photo by Jean Vong

Ten years ago, things at the ICA became a lot more permanent.

After changing its name and its location more than a dozen times throughout its 80-year history, the museum relocated to the waterfront in 2006. The move to the Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed building gave the ever-changing museum the ability to start a permanent collection.

Since then, the ICA has amassed more than 250 works into this collection, including art from figures like Andy Warhol. A new exhibition, titled First Light: A Decade of Collecting at the ICA, celebrates the museum’s first ten years of collecting by featuring more than 100 of its acquisitions—about 50 of them are on view at the ICA for the first time. The presentation includes installations from influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Paul Chan, Kara Walker, Cornelia Parker, and Ellen Gallagher.

On view now though January 16, 2017, First Light is the largest-ever presentation of the ICA’s collection. The exhibit is broken up into sections, or “chapters”—it’s meant to be a series of standalone exhibitions that are also interrelated.

The presentation was organized by the ICA’s curatorial department and led by Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator. The chapters explore a few different themes, from feminism and domesticity to biography and appropriation.

We thought about the types of stories we could tell from it,” explained associate curator Ruth Erickson, who curated chapters titled Question Your Teaspoons and the upcoming Louise Bourgeois, to open on October 8.

I think a really important thing was that it had different types of shows,” said Erickson, noting the significance of the thematic organization of the exhibition.

Halfway through First Light‘s viewing period, three chapters will be switched out for new ones. The rotation enables more of the collection to be showcased while creating different juxtapositions with the other chapters. A few anchors of First Light will remain on view throughout the entire period. They include Paul Chan’s digital animation 1st Light, one of the ICA’s first acquisitions and the inspiration for the exhibit’s name, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women, and the Soft Power chapter.

“This series of simultaneous exhibitions reveals the driving visions of curators and collectors, the social, political, material, and aesthetic concerns of contemporary artists, and the history of ICA exhibitions over the past many years,” said the ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss Director, Jill Medvedow, in a statement.

In addition to the exhibit’s opening on August 17, the museum has launched a microsite for the presentation at The site allows viewers to interact with the art virtually, and features interviews with artists, descriptions of the works, and commentary by curators.

First Light: A Decade of Collecting at the ICA will be on view from August 17 through January 16 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 25 Harbor Shore Dr., Boston. For more information, visit

Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), 1999 ©2016 Cornelia Parker / Photo by Charles Mayer Photography

Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), 1999 © 2016 Cornelia Parker / Photo by Charles Mayer Photography