Art and the Internet Collide at the ICA’s New Exhibit

With over 60 artists and more than 70 works, the Institute of Contemporary Art is the first institution in the U.S. to produce this kind of exhibit.

A woman's face on a box at the Art in the Age of the Internet at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Artwork from “Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today” at the Museum of Contemporary Art. / Photo provided

Technology is a central part of our lives. It’s how we date, how we view ourselves, and how we view others. But it’s a comparatively recent invention, especially in light of how embedded in our lives it is. And the Institute of Contemporary Art is opening a new exhibit, “Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today,” to examine just how the web has fundamentally changed who we are.

“The show is not of technology, it’s about technology,” says chief curator Eva Respini.

The exhibit takes a look at a history of technology, from 1989 to now. Over 60 artists are featured in the show, and contributions range from paintings and performance art to video and virtual reality. Visitors will have the chance to explore how technology has shaped humanity, and Respini says the ICA is one of the first places in the country to tackle this topic with an exhibition of such magnitude. Because Boston has a deep history of technology—the first email was sent here, Facebook began in Cambridge, and the Hub was recently ranked America’s best city for startups—she says it’s a great place to showcase this kind of story.

Of course, despite its ubiquity, everybody lives with technology in a different way. Some grew up using a typewriter for class assignments, while others had an iPhone at nine years old. The “intergenerational story,” as Respini refers to it, is reflected by the represented artists, who range in age, race, nationality, and gender.

When choosing pieces for the show, curators focused on works that have changed conversations. Respini says to look out for a piece by Korean artist Nam June Paik, in particular. The late artist is considered to have founded the concept of video art, and the piece “Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii,” was meant to highlight the promise of universal connectivity.

Additionally, despite the privacy and surveillance issues that have dominated technological discussion over the last 10 years, Respini says artists have been thinking about these themes for a while. Government document leaks from people like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden may have made technology appear more foe than friend recently, but artists have wrestled with the digital world’s potential problems long before now. That being said, this is not a binary distinction of good and bad. The show aims to show the varied views of our relationship with technology and how artists have explored those ideas through diverse mediums since 1989.

So what comes next for our relationship with technology? Respini says follow the artists.

February 7-May 20, 2018, Institute of Contemporary Art, 25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston,