Rachel Pastan
May 11, 2012

The Voting

Before the voting, there is the tour. Last April this group threw its support to Stefan Sagmeister The Happy Show, so tonight, in preparation for this year’s ballot, they walk through the galleries to see how the show looks.

Videos show truisms spelled out in moving Jello. There is a bike that lights up a big neon sign when you ride it. The group approaches the sugar sculpture, complete with lights and face recognition software. “If you look through the Plexiglas,” says Anthony, who is leading the tour, “the lights change color depending on how much you smile.”

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John puts his face in the frame and tries it out, grinning. The sugar cubes light up brightly, green and blue. It’s as though the show itself is saying he made a good choice last year.

Every spring, members of ICA’s Leadership Circle listen to pitches by three curators about three upcoming ICA exhibitions, then vote on which show to support. “It’s like the battle of the Titans,” Ingrid says, revving up the crowd. “I feel very powerful,” one voter confides as the group settles in with sandwiches and wine. Outside, the giant inflatable Happy Show monkeys peer in as though they want to know what’s going on.

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Stamatina goes first. She is organizing an exhibition of photographer Brian Weil who died in 1996. “Weil is a very under-recognized artist right now,” she says, “but a generation ago he was very well known.” She talks about Weil’s life and work, showing images of his photographs of people with AIDS and their families, of Hasidic Jews in New York, of murder victims in Miami. Weil was known for immersing himself in the communities of people he wanted to photograph, living with them for months sometimes before taking out his camera. Later, after the pictures were taken, he made visible his role as intermediary, scratching, blurring, or overexposing the negatives.

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Stamatina shows us the only known Weil self-portrait, a contact sheet of many images of the photographer in the guise of a Hasid. In these pictures, in hat and full beard, Weil gazes into the camera wearing a multitude of expressions as though trying to find one that fits.

Kate is up next. “ Karla Black makes site-specific sculptures,” she says, clicking through her slides. Pink and white and baby blue, fabulously gauzy and powdery, these big constructions burgeon forth, dangling from ceilings or piling precariously up toward them.

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Often made from chalk, paper, body creams, toothpaste, and make up, they have what Kate describes as “a pastry or confectionary quality,” like macaroons at a giant’s tea party. This exhibition will be Black’s first solo show in an American museum.

Going last, Anthony explains the title of his group show, White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart. It’s what the gods said to Narcissus when—fed up with him gazing at his reflection in the pool—they decided to turn him into flower. Anthony’s show is about pose, clothing, and self-presentation—how we “multiply our personalities” by what we put on our bodies. He tells us that it takes inspiration from a JG Ballard quote—“Fashion: A recognition that nature has endowed us with one skin too few, and that a fully sentient being should wear its nervous system externally.” Anthony has a long list of artists he hopes to include. Wardell Milan makes drawings and collages of people—part outer skin, part skeleton—overlayed with paint, paper, or swatches of fabric.

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Zoe Leonard’s photographs of runway shows catch the models looking at each other as though in lesbian flirtation. Frances Stark has a sculptural dress in the form of an old-fashioned dial telephone that she wears for performances that touch on sex-phone-chatting.

When the three curators sit back down, the serious ruminating begins. “Can we rate them 1-2-3?” someone asks. “Are any of the shows going to travel?” someone else wants to know. “Raise your hand when you’re done,” Sam calls, “and we’ll come around and collect your ballot.” Pencils scribble, hands go up. Sam and Christy disappear into the kitchen to count the ballots.

A moment later, they’re back. “And the winner,” Sam declares, “is Brian Weil!”

Stamatina looks happy.

Actually, everybody looks happy! People voting to spend money for art is not something you see every day.

Only the monkeys, out on the terrace, glower. They are like children whose mother is pregnant again, angry at the prospect of being displaced.

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Learn more about Leadership Circle here.

To sign up for Miranda‘s mailing list, email miranda@icaphila.org.

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