At the New ICA Watershed Exhibit, Recyclables Never Looked So Good

Everyone's favorite free art gallery on the Harbor returns this week by putting trash on a pedestal.

Installation view, Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2022. Photo by Charles Mayer

As it’s taken shape over the past few years, the ICA Watershed has positioned itself as a hub of ocean-focused eco-conscious artwork in Boston. Inside its gigantic space across the harbor from the ICA in the Seaport, we’ve seen video projections of swimming dolphins, meant to make us think more deeply about ocean life; we’ve seen an ultra-widescreen showing of a haunting film about climate change; and we’ve been transported to ancient underwater ruins lost to time in the Caribbean.

As it makes its return for the summer this week, the Watershed has some new flavors on offer: This year it’s going all-in on beautiful trash. For 2021, the gallery will host six different artists from around the world, each of whom makes use of found objects, for an exhibition called Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms.

Installation view, Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms , the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2022. Photo by Charles Mayer.

According to a release from the ICA, that means you can expect to find “glittering, tapestry-like sculptures” fashioned out of bottle caps and trash, an array of headlights and tail lights programmed to be “a choreography of street traffic,” and “towering sculptures” made out of discarded clothing and crates.

“The artworks in Revival capture the power of reuse, resilience, and reclamation, celebrating a revival of the everyday at monumental scale,” said Jill Medvedow, the ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss Director, in a press release. “These impressive, large-scale works take full advantage of the Watershed’s voluminous space, offering visitors the opportunity for exploration, discovery, and reflection.”

Joe Wardwell, Gotta Go to Work, Gotta Go to Work, Gotta Get a Job , 2022. Acrylic on wall, aimensions variable. Installation view, Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms , the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2022. Photo by Charles Mayer

The pieces, the ICA says, were picked to meld with the legacy of the Watershed, which before its second life had spent many years as a copper-pipe manufacturing facility. For that reason one of the artists, Boston-based Joe Wardwell, “will create a new, site-specific installation in dialogue with the rich history of labor songs.”

The concept fits in neatly with some of the other artistic offerings on display at the Boston Harbor Shipyard, including a series of seven murals exploring environmental issues called Sea Walls Boston, which were added to the area in collaboration with Eastie-based group HarborArts in 2020.

Madeline Hollander, Heads/Tails: Walker & Broadway 2 , 2020. Automobi le headlights, taillights, speaker cable, and terminal box, 18 feet × 43 feet 11 inches × 14 inches (5.5 × 13.4 × 0.4 m). Collection of Alex Hank . Image courtesy the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York. Photo by Kristian Laudrup. © Madeline Hollander

After the Watershed kicks off the season, stay tuned for its summer events: Watershed Family Day on July 30 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a Shipyard Block Party on August 13 from 12-5 p.m. Admission at the ICA’s main location, along with water transportation to and from the Watershed, will also be free for all from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Memorial Day, Juneteenth, and Labor Day, but you’ll need to get a timed ticket in advance, which will become available at 10 a.m. the day before.

Revivals: Materials and Monumental Forms” debuts at the ICA Watershed May 26 and runs through September 5. Admission is free from East Boston. With the price of admission to the ICA’s main headquarters, you can board a shuttle for free between the Watershed and the Seaport.