Q&A: Charlotte Ickes, ICA Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow

Portrait: Charlotte Ickes, Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow (2015)

Charlotte Ickes, Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow, 2015. Photo: Jill Katz.

We are delighted to welcome Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow Charlotte Ickes to the ICA team! Charlotte spoke with ICA’s Becky Huff Hunter on her background as a Penn doctoral candidate, as well as her curatorial interests and plans for her new position.

ICA: Last year, you co-curated the exhibition Itinerant Belongings at Slought and PennDesign’s Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall in Philadelphia. What was the exhibition’s theme?

Charlotte Ickes: I organized the exhibition with Iggy Cortez, my fellow graduate student and art/popular culture partner-in-crime. Themes emerged from several of our conversations and questions about home and nationhood: Do concepts like homeland and homecoming promote a desire for wholeness that conceals the exclusion of otherness? How do senses of relation arise in unsettled modes of orientation? How do the supposedly intimate and private domains of fantasy and family shape public space?

To help think about these questions, we revisited a moment in the late 1980s and early 1990s when artists, activists, and academics debated the politics of space in rapidly gentrifying American cities, particularly New York City as well as Philadelphia.

We wanted to constellate the performative practices of William Pope.L and Krzysztof Wodiczko from this period with work by a global roster of artists so as to create a lens through which to examine current meanings of “home.” The artists in this exhibition advanced multiple modes of world-making in the most unlikely of places, and we called such moments of recognition and reciprocity among strangers “itinerant belongings.”
Yael Bartana, video still from *Trembling Time* (2001)

Yael Bartana, video still from Trembling Time, 2001. Part of the exhibition Itinerant Belongings, 2015, curated by Charlotte Ickes and Iggy Cortez at Slought and Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall. Courtesy the artist.

ICA: You’ve worked as a Helena Rubinstein Fellow at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program and a Penn Mellon Fellow in the Contemporary Art Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. What drew you to ICA?

CI: I’d previously been an ICA intern helping former Chief Curator Ingrid Schaffner with the exhibition Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry (2011) and then later as a graduate student lecturer. In many ways ICA has served as my second intellectual home on campus. I admire its commitment to under-recognized artists in various stages of their careers, and, relatedly, its courage to take risks.

ICA is an incredibly important cultural hub not just for Penn but also for the larger city of Philadelphia—it only takes a couple of visits to realize this. For instance, ICA’s innovative public programs are extremely well attended in large part thanks to how the space welcomes the world outside its walls.

As a PhD student with a longstanding intention to curate upon graduation, ICA is the ideal space for furthering my curatorial practice in a cultural institution integrated within an academic setting, and so I know it will be a great pleasure to work at ICA once again.
A Romantic MinimalismGlenn Ligon: UnbecomingRomantic Minimalism 4Dirt on Delight 1Dirt on Delight 2Hicks 2Hicks 4Glenn Ligon, Unbecoming installation view (1998)

ICA: Have ICA’s past exhibitions inspired you?

CI: I remember seeing Dirt on Delight when I was visiting Penn as a prospective student, and the immense range of objects and tactile invitations floored me. It’s the type of show that proves how important it is to see art in the flesh. Fast-forward two years to 2011 when another kind of tactility was on full display—the fiber work of Sheila Hicks. I visited the show with my undergraduate students in Penn’s contemporary art survey, and it gave us the opportunity to explore what “visual pleasure” can really look and feel like. Although I never saw the exhibition in person, the catalog for Glenn Ligon: Unbecoming has served as a constant resource for my own research.

Finally, if I could time travel, I would love to go back to 1967 when ICA mounted A Romantic Minimalism. I read the short catalogue for my research on Minimalism in Motion, a small installation that I co-curated with Erica Battle, the John Alchin and Hal Marryatt Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I loved the unconventional language used to describe the movement. “Expression,” “sensuality,” “sensuous poetry,” “irregularity,” “metamorphosis,” and “evanescence” were some of the terms in circulation.
Installation view of “Lucinda Childs: Calico Mingling,” 1973, filmed by Babette Mangolte, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2015.

Installation view of “Lucinda Childs: Calico Mingling,” 1973, filmed by Babette Mangolte. Installed as part of Minimalism in Motion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On loan from the artist and Broadway 1602, New York.

ICA: Will your doctoral research on contemporary art and film of the African diaspora inspire your curatorial work at ICA?

CI: Yes, most definitely. My research will inevitably seep into whatever else I do—it certainly did with Itinerant Belongings. Although the pace, scope, and dimensions of my graduate research and curatorial practice differ, I view both as ways to think about and feel with contemporary art—the former unfolds on the page, while the latter takes place in space.

The field of black studies has prompted questions around blackness, objecthood, and fugitivity that I hope to ask in some fashion as both an art historian and curator.

As you can probably tell, I’m committed to fraying—or even doing away with—the line that separates academy and museum, scholar and curator. I’m interested in a messier movement or methodology that also guides my curiosity about artistic practices that blur all sorts of boundaries, from media to geographies.
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