Ingrid, Paul, and Robert are showing Doron Rabina the gallery. “Sometimes we have a wall here,” Ingrid says, “and sometimes we don’t.”
Doron nods. He’s come all the way from Tel Aviv to talk about the exhibition he’s guest curating at ICA next year, Blowing on a Hairy Shoulder/Grief Hunters, which will showcase many Israeli—along with other international—artists in a variety of media. Ingrid, ICA’s Senior Curator, was in Israel last summer scoping things out, and now Doron is here in his bright blue pants and his hip black glasses, looking around, trying to imagine the art he’s chosen in this space he barely knows. He’s trying to picture what the space can do, what it can offer him.
Mineral Spirits: Anne Chu and Matthew Monahan, which was here this fall, is coming down—is in fact mostly packed up already. Packing boxes lie open, bright packing rugs laid out before them in neat squares. The lively figures of wood and paper and beeswax are gone, and the air seems dull and listless. Ingrid is busy asking questions, moving things along. She asks Robert how many square feet the gallery is. She asks Doron,“Are you still considering cinder blocks?”
“No, too complicated,” Doron says.
What to use, then, to divide up the space? Ingrid says she liked the idea of cinder blocks, but Paul looks alarmed. “The problem is engineering it so the floor can support it,” he says. Paul, the chief preparator, is in charge of hanging the show and building anything that needs to be built. Making sure the floor doesn’t collapse is his job.
“Maybe just a few cinder blocks,” Ingrid says, but the others are talking about one of the videos in the show, about the lighting in the space. “It can be dark,” Ingrid notes.
“Completely dark?” Doron asks.
“Yes,” Robert says. Director of Curatorial Affairs, he has worked at ICA for ten years, about the same time as Ingrid. Together they have seen dozens of shows come and go up here on the second floor. They know what the space can do, what its limitations and possibilities are. “It’s good for you to see how adaptable the space is—it performs!” Ingrid says, and we all look around at the gallery as though it might start performing any minute.
Later, in the offices, Ingrid asks Doron to talk about the theme of the show. Doron says, “It explores the relationship between two concepts—origin and originality.” The show will present art that takes the concept of originality to the extreme, but the subject matter of the art will be mythological, precultural, looking back to beginnings. Doron turns the pages of the booklet he has brought with images of artworks he’s considering.
“Is this unfired clay?” Paul asks, pointing to one of the images. Doron says it’s actually colored bronze. Paul says, “If it’s bronze, it’s heavy as hell, and if it’s wet clay it’s delicate as hell.”
On and on the discussion goes. Would it be better to hang this object on the wall or display it on a stand? Should those large photographs be printed in Israel and shipped, which is expensive, or printed in Philadelphia where the artists won’t be able to approve them? I can see they’re going to be here for a long time, asking, considering, explaining, mulling. This is the origin of this show about origins: pretty much the same as the origin of every show. An idea encounters a particular physical space, financial constraints, personalities, institutional culture. A little later, something will emerge. Maybe it will have cinderblocks, shades on the windows, photographs shipped from Tel Aviv, and maybe it will have something else.
For now, though, the space is resting. Air is moving through it like cleansing yoga breaths. The gallery is gathering itself, getting ready to perform.