“Do you want to paint?” Luke asks.
A woman in shorts takes a brush and dips it in a cup of ink, then gets busy at the back window where the shape of an open book has been taped out in blue.
“Do you want to paint?” Luke asks a man coming up the steps from the lobby, then explains how this works. “Each person makes a small mark, and then also adds to something someone else has started.”
I look at what’s been inked so far: a nose, a long curve, something that looks like roller skates.
This is cooperative painting, a project of Sumi Ink Club, which Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara founded to promote “participatory drawing”events across the country.
The goal today is to help finish the installation Wendy Yao has organized for Excursus III: Ooga Booga, her re-imagining of ICA’s mezzanine space as a place to read, peruse the ICA archival material she has selected, and attend a series of programs—largely by her circle of collaborators—that respond in some way to the exhibition currently on view.
Wendy is the founder of Los Angeles’s Ooga Booga, a space over a Chinatown bakery that overflows the categories and labels sometimes used to describe it: bookstore, music shop, clothing boutique, zine source, publishing imprint, exhibition space. You can buy stuff at Ooga Booga for sure, but if you want to come in, browse, hang out, chat, that’s all right too. As in ICA’s Excursus projects, enjoying the space, either alone or with others, can be an end in itself.
Among the objects Wendy has selected to make you want to linger in the ICA installation are:
• A big blue hammock on a hammock stand.
• A modular table (“Group Affinity Table,” it’s called) by Berlin designer Manuel Raeder, which can be assembled as a circle, a long snakey ribbon, or a sort of tailed C-curve that looks like a letter in a forgotten alphabet.
• Group Affinity Benches in aqua and red.
• Books, many of them made by friends and collaborators. (Wendy, who supports independent print culture, has produced an indispensable guide to print resources.)
• A bunch of small round stools, of the kind that are ubiquitous in Chinatown.
Grace, ICA’s Spiegel Fellow, tells me about tracking the stools up and down 10th Street: “Everyone has them, but no one knows where they got them,” she says. Finally she found a store that had a bunch in the back they were willing to sell. After that, she turned her attention to finding a money tree—Pachira aquatica, a houseplant also common in Chinatown, thought to bring prosperity.
In the back corner, a wooden rack displays magazines, artists’ books, zines, ICA catalogues. As an all-caps letter from the artist Richard Tuttle, on view elsewhere in the installation, observes: “There is a certain pleasure in just looking through show catalogues—like being a spectator at a football match.”
For me, though, the heart of this installation is the flat files: five drawers of letters, articles, notes, photographs, and other ephemera that Wendy found in ICA’s archives. Drawer One features a lot of cats, including a page of Karen Kilimnik cat stickers; a “Sunday School Cat” postcard that critic and curator Lawrence Alloway sent to former ICA Director Suzanne Delahanty: “Delighted that you can reprint the Martin cat” (he meant catalogue, I guess); and a thank you note to Delahanty from collector Dorothy Vogel, this one featuring a striped cat.
There is, as well, a clipping of a 1975 article about Dorothy Vogel and her husband, Herb, who died last July. The Vogels, who had a long relationship with ICA, were famous for becoming important contemporary art collectors on a budget: he worked for the US Postal Service and she was a Brooklyn librarian. Sometimes, I am told, they received art works in barter for cat sitting.
A few hours from now, at the Excursus III: Ooga Booga opening, Wendy will say of her Los Angeles store, “I wanted to have a place to share things that people around me were making.”
Here at ICA, the scope of what she is sharing is larger—things not only from people she knows, like Manuel Raeder who designed the furniture; but from people she’s never met, like Suzanne Delahanty and Richard Tuttle; or who have died, like Herb Vogel (and Agnes Martin and Gertrude Stein); or whose identity has been lost, like the anonymous designers of several unidentified ICA posters in Drawer Four.
Also work by these friends and strangers, colleagues and passers-by, with brushes in their hands, who together are creating this inky jungle of flowers, hands, eyes, witch’s hats, umbrellas, and butterflies. This wild, improvisational, Ooga Booga world.
Excursus III: Ooga Booga is on view at ICA through December 16. You can follow the project on the Excursus website.
Luke Fischbeck will be back at ICA with his collaborator, Sarah Rara, in their incarnation as the band Lucky Dragons, to celebrate the closing of Excursus III: Ooga Booga on Sunday, December 16.
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