“I like thinking of ICA as a character in a book,” Ingrid says.
We are at a presentation by Sarah Fritchey, a graduate student in curatorial studies at Bard, who has spent her summer in Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library combing through ICA’s archives. She has dug out treasures from many of our past exhibitions and made wonderful outlines and lists to describe her findings.
The idea is to take representative images from landmark shows throughout our history and put them online as part of ICA’s 50th anniversary observances next year.
Sarah shows a slide of our first-ever announcement card, for ICA’s inaugural exhibition of Clyfford Still paintings in 1963.
There are press releases, attendance counts, newspaper articles, floor plans. There is a letter describing how ICA’s early trustees worried over whether or not the new museum should be called an “institute,” and one between the curator of 1974’s Robert Morris/Projects and the fire chief about concerns that the installation would break fire code. Some shows have almost no artifacts at all; on the other end of the spectrum, there are thirteen boxes of material about the incendiary Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in 1988.
The Highway (1970) falls somewhere in between. “The invitation was kind of eccentric.” Sarah shows an image of a yellow-and-red paper stop sign. “The r.s.v.p. says, ‘Informal or highway gear.’ People literally wore street signs!”
“Do you have a picture, please?” Ingrid asks.
She also has radio announcements—PR blurbs for radio announcers to read, composed in 10, 20, and 30 second spots. “I’m really obsessed with these: ‘There’s no toll charge for The Highway…’ ”
One of the most interesting discoveries is a short, unpublished essay by the late curator Harald Szeemann on “the death of groovy,” intended for the catalogue of 1977’s Paul Thek exhibition. Invited to contribute a piece of 3,000 words, Szeemann instead wrote a mere 1,000; the essay was not, ultimately, included.
More images slide by: the galleries in ICA’s three locations; letterhead designs; correspondence from various directors in a wide variety of tones; a ticket to a Joan Jonas performance of A Juniper Tree. Slowly but surely the nature of ICA is revealed, the way the nature of a leading character is revealed over the course of a book.
As Ingrid says, “This is ICA’s story, after all.”
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