Contemporary art had always seemed, to me, interesting to look at but a bit too out-there to understand. I didn’t feel I was sophisticated enough to appreciate it, and I couldn’t fully see why a dark painting featuring a single red stripe was considered art, or why taking pictures of the back of someone’s head required creative talent. I had always connected with literature, but visual art was more difficult to grasp.
My six-week summer internship at ICA, sponsored by the Penn Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships’ Summer Humanities Internship Program, showed me otherwise.
Working in the Marketing & Communications Department with Jill Katz and Becky Huff Hunter, I contributed research to ICA’s curatorial archive—a compilation of information and archival images about ICA exhibits dating back to the 1960s, which will gradually be made public. I sifted through decades-old catalogs, trying to find out information about art that had been captured in old pictures of the exhibits. I was amazed by the stained-glass creations of Judith Schaechter, and moved by the emotional photographs of Carrie Mae Weems. The work of Allan D’Arcangelo, Andres Serrano, and Robert Indiana impressed me as well.
Dusty pages revealed beautiful artwork; essays written about each piece yielded fascinating insight. I learned about the ways that artists were inspired by their cultures, their families, their upbringings, their religions, their environments. Cho Duck-Hyun, for instance, incorporated pictures of his parents in traditional Korean dress into his artwork, allowing it to reflect the importance of his Korean heritage, while the “Beyond Belief” exhibit featured artwork from various countries in Eastern Europe.
I began to see contemporary art in a new light. The same pieces that previously had seemed random and befuddling were now filled with meaning and beauty. I was able to build the curatorial archive to help ICA gain recognition; while simultaneously gaining a new personal appreciation for contemporary art.
My other tasks throughout the summer varied, and I got the chance to see many different sides of the organization. I helped sort through records of attendance that had been collected throughout the year, discovering that people come from as far away as South Africa, Albania, Argentina, and Japan to see art at ICA. I assembled press packets promoting the Barbara Kasten: Stages exhibition using Adobe Photoshop, researched media that might help raise awareness of the museum, and helped prepare a reception for a group from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, a foundation which helped to make Stages possible. I even participated as an extra in filming for the Art21 documentary, posing as a museum visitor wandering among Barbara Kasten’s art.
Everyone at ICA has been friendly and helpful, and it is inspiring to work with people who are passionate about what they do. In a world where appreciation for the arts can waver, especially among young people, the individuals who work at the ICA are making great progress in spreading the love of art in the Penn community.
Working at ICA has allowed me to develop my skills, expand my knowledge, and broaden my horizons. It was an experience I am grateful for and will never forget.