“It’s been a happy reason for my dissertation to gather dust and cobwebs,” Virginia says of her year at ICA. We’re sitting around the conference table at her final staff meeting. Virginia Solomon was the ICA’s 2010-11 Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow (WLCF), which means that she spent a year here learning the museum trade. She organized a show, helped teach a class, and oversaw much of last year’s programming. The WLCF program, going into its 12th year, has brought many bright young curators to work at ICA who have then gone on to jobs at museums like MOCA and MCA Chicago, or running their own galleries, or working to promote and expand public art. Once Virginia finishes that dissertation at USC on the Canadian artist group General Idea, she’ll be on the job market, looking to become a professor of art history. As though that’s not ambitious enough, she hopes to be a professor who curates too, something she says is more possible now than it used to be: “Rare but doable!”
For Virginia, the teaching and the curating seem very much intertwined. “Contemporary art history is in flux,” she says, “and the teaching of it is in flux too.” Working at ICA has influenced the whole package, helping her hone the practice “of putting the object first and the idea coming from the object…Objects don’t always come first in the study of art history.” Being here offered her the opportunity to get her hands into every aspect of curating, not just working with artists but negotiating loan forms, publications, shipping, budgets, transportation.
Virginia’s ICA show, Shary Boyle & Emily Duke: The Illuminations Project, showcased two artists, one of whom works primarily with images and the other primarily with text, working together in a new kind of collaboration, responding to one another’s work but resisting straightforward ideas of illustration or narrative explication. The bright, often violent work that resulted was both political and visceral in its effect. About how making the show affected her, Virginia says, “It made me realize that I’m always talking about the same things, but with different pictures.”
Working with the class “Contemporary Art and the Art of Curating,” Virginia helped the students—Penn freshmen—curate their own show, which was an exploration of ICA’s iconic 1965 Andy Warhol exhibition. She lectured the students on contemporary art, put issues of queer identity and politics on the table, helped them learn to do archival research, and shepherded them through the gazillion details that go into presenting an exhibition.
It was Virginia who asked last winter if ICA should respond to the removal, after protests from the Catholic League and some members of Congress, of the controversial David Wojnarowicz video “A Fire in My Belly” from an exhibition of gay portraiture at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. A week later, the video was on view in the ICA lobby.
What else did Virginia do during her sojourn in Philly?
Drank coffee. Went on studio visits. Rode her bike. “I love the Wissahickon. I went mountain biking there as much as I could with my dog, Georgia,” a large and lovely mixed breed who will miss the friends she made in Clark Park.
What will people at ICA remember about Virginia?
“That I walked around the office in Spandex all the time,” she speculates, smiling.
That’s true, of course. And who could forget the boxes of fresh vegetables delivered to the museum offices? We will also remember her good humor and positive attitude, her gregarious laughter and her awesome mix tapes. Jenna Weiss, who shared an office with her, said the best thing: “She made you aware of small things like recycling, and big things like being aware of being attentive and sensitive to difference, if you sometimes got lazy.”
Virginia, good luck out there in the world of freeways and movie stars! We’ll think of you when we think about art and politics, and when we drink coffee, and when we laugh.
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