Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) opened its 50th anniversary exhibition, “ICA@50: Pleasing Artists and Publics Since 1963,” on Feb. 12 with a high-octane evening that included exhibit previews, energetic sets by Questlove of The Roots and DJ PHSH, and a powerful performance piece by Israeli artist Lior Shvil. It was no muted, traditional affair—just as “ICA@50” is no muted, traditional retrospective.
Throughout the past half-century, the ICA has earned its international reputation as an adventurer in contemporary art by highlighting unconventional artists and their unique works. This focus supports the ICA’s founding mission to expose students to “new and happening” movements in art and culture—where practicing artists are the engine, and museum visitors’ engagement with their art is the fuel.
In keeping with its vibrant mission, the museum has put together an exhibition featuring 58 artists who were commissioned to create micro-exhibitions ranging from visual and performance art, to sculpture and films that re-imagine select ICA exhibits from the past 50 years. Each of these micro-exhibitions will be initially installed in the center of the large gallery space, then move two weeks later to a surrounding wall where, piece by piece, they will slowly disappear—reflecting the historically temporal nature of ICA exhibits.
“This golden anniversary gives us a chance to animate the Institute of Contemporary Art’s incredible history with imaginative new exhibitions and events,” says ICA Chief Curator Ingrid Schaffner, “as well as explore the ICA’s role on Penn’s campus as a research institute of contemporary art.”
The ICA is a non-collecting museum, therefore, the electronic archive on its newly redesigned website serves as its virtual collection. On Miranda, the museum’s blog, ICA Editor-at-Large Rachel Pastan describes the process of choosing what physical records to archive electronically: “It was the exhibitions we were thinking about—how best to represent, or memorialize, them,” noting that Penn Manuscripts Cataloger Donna Brandolisio remarked, “It’s a life. It’s an organism. It’s not just papers to me.”
“ICA@50” will keep bringing its history—and the history of contemporary art—to life through Aug. 17, both in its shifting gallery space and online.
Return visitors receive a free ICA membership on their fifth visit to the museum.
Online visitors can follow the ICA’s Instagram account, which is being taken over by five local artists through the end of the show.
Originally published on March 6, 2014