On the last morning of April—the morning of ICA’s benefit—we awake to rain. Rain pours down from glowering clouds. It rushes and burbles through the streets as we scuttle to work, our party dresses and suit jackets, sheathed in plastic, flung over our arms. Rain lashes the museum’s big glass doors and drums numbingly onto the white tent raised over the terrace. It streams down the tall office windows on the third floor, where we make jokes while hoping for a let up.
Down on the terrace, busy workers arrange candles on the orange and green tables, reinforcing the tent’s edges with clear plastic. ICA’s dauntless Director of Curatorial Affairs, Robert Chaney, climbs up onto the big concrete planters and puts in flowers from his children’s daycare center plant sale to brighten the gloom. We check the hour-by-hour forecast on our phones and try to dredge up cheerful rain-related sayings.
When you drink the water, remember the spring.
April showers bring May flowers.
The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.
The first two are traditional proverbs; the third is attributed to Dolly Parton.
By six o’clock, the downpour hasn’t abated, but the atmosphere feels sunnier. In the well-lit lobby, waiters pass special drinks—ICA Sparklers (meyer lemon, basil lemonade, and Prosecco) and Muddled Luxardo Cherry Old Fashioneds—while guests in elegant, festive clothes drift in from the dusk like flowers sprouting from dark earth. The evening is a celebration of ICA’s 50th birthday, and many have taken the invitation to “Party like it’s 1963” literally. Dresses are colorful and short, boots are high, and many of the men have bright ties—pink or electric green or paisleyed—under their jackets. I myself am wearing a mid-thigh-length brown velvet Marimekko dress, imprinted with textured flowers, that my mother wore all through the sixties.
Up on the mezzanine, artist Lucas Michael poses couples against the white wall and takes their photograph. He’s using a Polaroid Big Shot camera—the kind of camera Andy Warhol used. Lucas, a multi-media artist, is known for his Polaroids. His “Ladies and Gentleman” series recreated Warhol’s work by the same name—but with women instead of transvestites—while a more recent series captured iconic actors at the 2013 Golden Globes. Writing in Architectural Digest, Brienne Walsh called these images “[t]iny blips of joy.”
Lucas jokes with the guests, rearranging their limbs. A mother and daughter pose cheek to cheek. A man poses giving his wife a kiss. ICA’s Chief Curator poses with the Director of the Whitney Museum. Something about the instant camera makes people feel relaxed. “It’s fun!” Lucas says. He takes two snaps of everyone, then lets them choose one to take home. Photo after photo: all of them look fantastic. “It’s a very good camera,” Lucas says modestly.
Out in the tent, we find our seats and pull crackers. Slips of paper folded inside recall iconic moments in ICA history: “Andy and Edie escaping through the roof…Agnes Martin’s lecture on perfection…Chuck Close roasting Lisa Yuskavage…Sheila Hicks wrapping fiber balls with benefit guests’ unmentionables inside…” Then dinner it’s time for the Chateaubriand and the speeches.
Artist Jayson Musson, unable to be present, has sent a statement via gallerist John Ollman: “The ICA has continually awoken me to what art could be. And, by extension, who I could be through my art.”
Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, reminds us how “institute can be a verb”: how one of the things ICA does is to institute—to initiate—contemporary art.
Paula Marincola, Executive Director of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and a former ICA curator, declares that “ICA’s value to the ecology of our city’s art scene is difficult to overstate.” She recalls how “as a high school girl, waiting to meet my college-aged boyfriend, I slipped into Meyerson Hall to find Christo’s oil drums—an encounter that still remains clear in my mind.”
Out in the April night, it’s still coming down in buckets. But here, in the warm glow under the tent, the applause drowns out the rain.