Intern in Pursuit of Camel Saddles: Jason Rhoades Countdown, part III

The following emails were sent at ICA in recent weeks:

Hi, Robert,

Here’s the dust collector hose receipt. Also the images of the replacement towels from Acme Linen. Let me know if you like them and I’ll give them the go-ahead.


Hi Ella,

Thanks. Please look for three or four copies of this dictionary in purple.



I’ve found both new and used copies of this dictionary. Which would you prefer? Four of the new ones from Barnes and Noble comes to $42.76, while 4 of the used ones from Amazon would probably be around $20. Let me know what’s best.

Miranda: yet-more-camel-saddles-EC-A

photo: Ella Cohen

“My first day working here,” Ella tells me, “Robert asked me to go on eBay and search for camel saddle footstools. I’d never done anything like it before.”

“How many did you get?”

“Six. The order was: nothing ornate, varied colors, and in moderately good condition. It was hard to find the light-colored ones.”

Ella is a CURF intern at ICA this summer (CURF is Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships), working in the curatorial department with Robert, ICA’s Director of Curatorial Affairs. Much of her time is spent assembling some of the unlikely materials we need for our big fall show Jason Rhoades, Four Roads. Rhoades’s big and noisy sculptures are made from power cords, sheetrock, plastic buckets, dictionaries, towels, ceramic planters shaped like donkeys, fluorescent tubes, Makita drills, etc: stuff you could buy at the hardware store, or maybe a souvenir stand. Ella does most of her Rhoades shopping online. The camel saddle footstools and the towels will both be part of Untitled (from My Madinah: In pursuit of my ermitage…), a late Rhoades work involving lots of neon.
Miranda: My-Medinah-image-E

image: Jason Rhoades, “My Madinah: In pursuit of my ermitage,” 2004Installation view of the solo exhibition at Sammlung Hauser und Wirth in der Lokremise, St. GallenCourtesy Estate of Jason Rhoades; Galerie Hauser & Wirth; David Zwirner, New York/London

Obviously that’s not what they’re being marketed for, though. “On eBay, the ad for a camel saddle might say, ‘Great conversation piece for your living room,” Ella says.

A rising junior at Penn studying art history, Ella discovered ICA last fall when her TA held office hours in the tea room that was part of ICA’s Jeremy Deller show. “I loved that exhibition,” Ella says. “I came back three times.” She tells me about her modern art class, and about how excited she gets about Marcel Duchamp. She sees clear connections between what she’s learned in school and the show she’s working on now: “It’s really interesting to see Jason Rhoades working with readymade objects,” she says. “His art is towels and camel saddles. That never would have happened without Duchamp.” Duchamp, of course, famously invented the “readymade” art object when he mounted a bicycle wheel on a stool, transforming it through his selection from utilitarian object to something more.

Ella is also passionate about dance. She’s the head of choreography for Penn’s CityStep (a program that brings dance to public school kids), choreographs for the student group Penn Dance, and teaches Zumba. She spent two weeks last summer on a program in Ghana and thinks she might want to join the Peace Corps. When I ask how she got interested in art, Ella tells me her great-grandmother was a Philadelphia art dealer. “I spent a lot of time in her house. Only now do I understand that I was literally crawling on a Lichtenstein tapestry.”
Miranda: Ella-A

Ella at work constructing faux Ivory Snow boxes. Photo: Robert Chaney

Interns and work study students are essential to the work we do at ICA. Not only do they order towels and camel saddles, they also help keep us organized, assist at events, conduct research, answer the door, track down references, make copies, and greet visitors at the front desk. We try to balance more interesting tasks with the more mundane ones, and to let them know how much we value their work. From their point of view, an ICA internship offers a kind of experience that’s not so easy to come by. As Ella says, “In art history class, you learn a lot about art, but not what goes on behind the scenes.”

While Ella and I are talking, Robert comes over with an urgent project. “I need you to ship boxes of sugar cubes,” he says.

Sugar cubes: not Rhoades related this time, but rather an item out of our exhibition, Stefan Sagmeister The Happy Show, that is finishing its European tour at La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris this fall.

“We should send them ten boxes,” Robert says. “Apparently they don’t do sugar cubes in France.”

Jason Rhoades, Four Roads opens September 18, 2013 and will be on view through December 29.

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