Feb 26–May 9, 2021

Jessica Vaughn: Our Primary Focus Is To Be Successful

Jessica Vaughn, still from Our Primary Focus Is To Be Successful, 2019, 2-channel, color digital video installation, sound, loop, 7 minutes, 37 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and Martos Gallery.

Jessica Vaughn (born 1983, Penn MFA ’11) considers the everyday structures that inform our understanding of labor, race, and space. Our Primary Focus Is To Be Successful—the title drawn from a work on view in this gallery—surveys the artists’ new and recent work. In this exhibition, she examines late twentieth- and twenty-first-century office culture, the promise of malleability and universality of modular architecture, and marginalized workers who have been rendered invisible in these spaces. Vaughn transforms and repurposes employee training videos, career exploration tools, government occupational reports, and lighting fixtures in ways that urge us to reconsider the systems that shape the places where we work.

The photographs, sculptures, paintings, and video on view are grounded in the political and social influences of the workplace: labor and affirmative action policies used to integrate the workforce, modular building and design systems that revolutionized the American office, and the minimalist art movement that prioritized industrial materials. These three seemingly disparate moments that have been historicized as distinct are, in fact, intertwined and present today. These are some of the materials that Vaughn chooses to work with.

On display in a moment of radical change, Vaughn’s examination of discarded and mass-produced materials reminds us to contemplate the objects and spaces we come into contact with daily. Presented within this exhibition are the material legacies of these histories, not only as they existed in the past, but also as they persist today.

Our Primary Focus Is To Be Successful is organized by Meg Onli, Andrea B. Laporte Associate Curator. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated publication to be released in summer 2021.

Virtual Tour


Support for Jessica Vaughn: Our Primary Focus Is To Be Successful has been provided by the Inchworm Fund. The Inchworm Fund is an endowment created to respond to ICA’s spirit of exploration, supporting artists and curators in their quest to uncover the unknown through multiyear research, exhibition, publication, and conversation. In naming the fund, visionary Philadelphia patron Daniel W. Dietrich, II wished to attract fellow contributors, encouraging ICA to reach and expand toward new possibilities.

This project is supported in part by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Martos Gallery, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Additional support has been provided by Danielle Mandelbaum Anderman, Dorothy & Martin Bandier, Julie & Lawrence Bernstein, Cheri & Steven Friedman, Kirk Kirkpatrick, Josephine Magliocco, Patricia & Howard Silverstein, and Meredith & Bryan Verona.



Wed, Apr 7, 2021, 6:30PM–7:30PM
In Conversation: Jessica Vaughn & Meg Onli
Books & Editions
Jessica Vaughn: <em>Our Primary Focus is to be Successful</em> book cover

Order your copy today from artbook.com!

In Conversation with Meg Onli.

From the discarded to the mass-produced: Vaughn’s installations explore complex histories of production and race.

This volume presents recent works by artist Jessica Vaughn (born 1983) that address modular architecture’s promise of malleability and universality—at the expense of visibility for Black workers and workers of color.

6.75 x 9 inches
Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania
ISBN 9780884541547
Publication Date
Meg Onli
Studio ELLA
Meg Onli
Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania