For this first program for ICA@50, Rachel Pastan brought seven writers to ICA to read new work written in response to an exhibition of their choice from the museum’s history. The diverse group—in different genres, at different stages of their careers, and with different relationships to ICA—brought new voices and visions, helping us see our past through fresh eyes.
Grace Ambrose introduced the idea of the “magic circle” in her essay about collecting: “Artworks have lives that reach far beyond the walls they hang on.” Amy Benson invoked apocalypse in her piece about a children’s counting book: “An artist…plays beaver in a beaverless world—smell of fresh-chewed wood, sound of rivulets, of air bubbling through water.” Thomas Devaney’s poems conjured Philadelphia neighborhoods (and slipped in a mention of ICA curator Ingrid Schaffner as well as artist Sarah McEneaney’s dog): “They believe in the front stoop.” Alina Grabowski’s short story explored the relationship between a thwarted artist and her daughter: “When we played Famous You she was Patricia Goddard, a young talent taking the contemporary art world by storm.” Major Jackson read Sun Ra poetry and told Philadelphia stories: “Moonwords for/posterity…” Rachel Pastan reflected the museum in a funhouse mirror: “Not for us any longer the drama of the living artist.” Asali Solomon offered up a hilarious playback of being inside ICA that was also a meditation on postpartum depression: “I have a visceral memory of the entry rituals…”
A freshly made chapbook, designed by Henry Steinberg and printed at Common Press, was distributed at the reception following the program, where books by the participants were also for sale, care of Penn Book Center. Though the weather was snowy, the turnout was strong for this literal reading-through-ICA, which revealed the institution as part of a web spreading through Philadelphia and across genres.
Famous You: Alina Grabowski on “Three Stanzas”7 SculptorsICA@50: Pleasing Artists And Publics Since 1963ICA@50