What’s the story behind the ICA?

Dear Benny:
I walk by the Institute of Contemporary Art almost every day and would like to know if it’s a part of Penn. What sorts of shows does it have? How long has it been around?
—Art Lover

Dear Art Lover,
The Institute of Contemporary Art, known as the ICA, is a University-sponsored institute that dates back to 1963. According to Jill Katz, director of marketing & communications for the ICA, the place was the brainchild of Penn’s Dean of Architecture, G. Holmes Perkins, who wanted to expose students to what was “new and happening” in art and culture but found the University without the gallery space to match his ambitions.

Originally, the ICA was housed in provisional quarters in Penn’s Furness Building, but moved in 1968 into Penn’s new Graduate School of Fine Arts (GSFA) building, where it shared exhibition space with the GSFA (now PennDesign). In the late 1970s, the ICA needed a larger space to accommodate an expanded exhibition season and increased education and outreach programming. In 1991, the museum completed a $5.1 million capital campaign and constructed its current home at 118 S. 36th St.

The ICA partners with departments at Penn to offer interdisciplinary undergraduate courses, including the Contemporary Art and the Art of Curating course with the Department of the History of Art—the nation’s only undergraduate class in curatorial practices in contemporary art.

From the beginning, the ICA has taken risks, hosting an inaugural show of paintings by abstract expressionist Clyfford Still in 1963, followed by the first museum show of works by Andy Warhol. Through the years, the ICA has been instrumental in nurturing many promising artists before they attained prominence, such as Laurie Anderson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and most recently Lisa Yuskavage, Barry Le Va and Karen Kilimnik.

For more information, visit the ICA’s web site at www.icaphila.org.

Got a question for Benny? Send it via e-mail to current@pobox.upenn.edu or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106.

Originally published on March 26, 2009