Students dip toes in art experience

One look at the bright bean-bag chairs — each about the size of a bed — and Thomas Lahousse, an exchange student from France, had them all figured out. “Red is birth and yellow is the beginning of life, always bright,” he said, referring to the chairs’ colors. “Then you have a woman. It’s not so nice anymore. That’s blue.”

He was one of about 150 students who turned up for the opening of the “Against Design” art show at the Institute of Contemporary Art Feb. 4. And like most of those students, it was his first time visiting the campus exhibition space known for showing cutting-edge work.

One of Lahousse’s four companions, Berk Kapicioglu (EAS’03), was also a first-time visitor. “I didn’t even know there was an Institute of Contemporary Art on campus,” he said.

Besides students, the show attracted lots of newcomers, with the age of viewers skewing toward youth — although not usually so young as Katelin McConkey, 11-nearly-12.

“I like art but I’m not too big on galleries and museums,” she said. Why? No touching allowed. So, like Lahousse, she was taken by the bean-bag chairs — officially known as “Bean-Bag Set,” by Angela Bulloch — because she was allowed to try them out, as long as she took off her shoes. She was also tickled by the other touchable in the show — also no shoes allowed —the bright blue survivalist version of a mobile home created by Atelier van Lieshout, a Dutch collaborative founded by artist Joep van Lieshout.

Used to be, ICA openings attracted a far older crowd. But the ICA is making efforts to integrate with student life and academic inquiry.

Just the day before the opening, van Lieshout gave a talk hosted by the Graduate School of Fine Arts. And coming up in April, the student radio station, WQHS, and the ICA are hosting a party for students at the ICA, said Roy Wilbur, ICA marketing and communications director.

Francesca Mead (C’03), taking a cigarette break outside the show, said she knew the place just from walking past. “My roommate’s a volunteer here.”

Her roommate turned up and gave the place a powerful recommendation. “I think it’s important for a school like Penn, known for its professionality, to have a thriving art scene on campus,” Stefanie Magner (C’02) said. “They’re entrepreneurs in the art world and something unique.”


Originally published on February 17, 2000