The ICA Celebrates 75 Years Of 'Renegade' Art

By Jared Bowen

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Oct. 26, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 19 on WGBH's Greater Boston.


BOSTON — It was 75 years ago this month that the Boston Museum of Modern Art opened in Boston. It billed itself as the "renegade offspring" of the Museum Of Modern Art. You know it better today as the Institute of Contemporary Art, or the ICA. I spent some time there last week looking at its history and its brand new show, Dance/Draw.

Advancing The Avant-Garde

"It was an important place on the art scene because of the whole idea of contemporary art and really showing the work that was coming out of Europe where the avant-garde was so alive," said Jill Medvedow, Director at the ICA.

The museum opened with a splash, presenting the first Boston area survey of Paul Gauguin. It lured Salvador Dali to its first gala. From there the museum just plowed forward, showing art emerging near and far. Swiss architect and designer Le Corbusier presented his first US show here in 1948.

"One of the things I love in looking at the ICA's history, and the word that keeps coming up for me is rupture; of trying to see what existed in the past and making a break with that in favor of a bold statement that's always facing forward," Medvedow said.

Like in 1966 when a forward-thinking ICA recognized the significance of Andy Warhol and was the first museum to show his films.

Casting The Net Wider

"Sometimes the most important contemporary art might not be seen in a gallery. Might be seen outside of a museum's walls, or in a theater, so we brought the Ballet Russes when we did our Picasso Matisse exhibition. When we showed Andy Warhol so early in Warhol's career, we brought iconic performances by the Velvet Underground," Medvedow said.

Just as it has brought the work of choreographer Trisha Brown for its newest show, "Dance/Draw."

In a regular series of performances on Thursdays and weekends, dancers perform "Floor of the Forest" within the exhibition.

Helen Molesworth, chief curator at the ICA described it this way.

"It speaks to the kind of blurring of boundaries between different disciplines. So on the one hand it's a sculpture; it's constructed out of steel pipe and there's a very heavy steel pipe webbing, woven into that webbing is pieces of clothing. And then what happens is the two dancers mount this apparatus and they wind and weave their way through the clothing. They both look like they're at the floor of the forest, they look like monkeys or lemurs but they also have this dolphin quality of breaking the water and then going back under," Molesworth said.

In the very smart, very engaging "Dance/Draw," ICA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth explores the literal line in art — whether it's in dance, sculpture or drawing.

'A Lodestar For Artistic Expression'

"Language remains fundamental to human communication and I think line remains fundamental to human visual communication. We can't escape it. The line remains whether it's the line of the body in dance or the kinds of lines that drawing give us. It's just a lodestar for artistic expression," Molesworth said.

"Dance/Draw" investigates drawing dating back to the 1960s, a time when Molesworth says art and dance broke away from tradition. The first gallery shows drawings made by batting heavily mascaraed eyelashes, by bouncing basketballs and by swirling hair. It's artists using the body, not just the hand.

"They started to democratize the art process. They wanted to make art with things that everybody had around the house with gestures that anyone could do," Molesworth explained. "Because they didn't want art to be only in the province of the wealthy or the highly trained, it was part of a massive cultural revolution that happened in the 60s and 70s."

Could Your Kid Really Do That?

But it begs the age-old question, could I bounce a basketball and get these results?

"What I always say to people is yes, your kid could do that. But after they started, could they finish? Would they have stuck with it? Would they have the endurance? The patience? And if they had gotten to the end and realized it didn't look quite right, would they have thrown it away and started again? That's really where the art part of it comes in," said Molesworth.

And out. The show also follows the line as it moves off the canvas.

"String and wire are a 3-dimensional line. So instead of looking at those objects as sculpture I started looking at them as drawings. And actually seeing the line having literally moved off the page and into space," Molesworth said.

And forward. Which has been the ICA's charge for 75 years — it will follow the line wherever it reinvents art.



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