Making ICA History

At the ICA, the year began with the Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” showcasing the prolific designer and artist’s wide-ranging creative practice and influence. Attending the opening events, just months before his untimely death, Abloh generously spoke with teens and young people hired to staff the accompanying retail pop-up “Church and State.”

An accompanying collaboration between ICA teens and Boston-based artist OJ Slaughter showcased the young peoples creativity and personalities as they styled fashions Abloh created exclusively for the ICA.

Firelei Báez transformed the Watershed with a monumental installation reimagining the archeological ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace in Haiti.

The work’s intricatedly painted surfaces included symbols of healing and resistance, patterning drawn from West African indigo printing traditions, and Caribbean sea life.

Boston-based artist Stephen Hamilton explored the unrecognized historical contributions of West Africa to indigo use in the Americas, drawing on references to West African Yoruba culture and his research conducted in Nigeria, in the Watershed’s Harbor Room.

THE DAY returned nearly three years after an initial Summer Stages Dance @ the ICA residency in 2019. A collaboration among legends — cellist Maya Beiser, dancer Wendy Whelan, and choreographer Lucinda Childs, with music by David Lang— THE DAY explores life and the eternal, post-mortal voyage of the soul.

A gut punch … nothing short of life itself: by turns hopeful, funny, surprising and tragic.

The New York Times
New Acquisitions
Click for details

In-person art-making returned to the museum after a Covid hiatus with Bridging Creativity: Art Lab from Home to Here featuring activities designed by four Boston artists.

In response to consistent demand for teen programming, a major accomplishment of the year was opening Seaport Studio, a new dedicated space for teens with a gallery, creative and gathering spaces, and workshop facilities.

The new space allows for new programs including an innovative Teen Exhibitions Program, through which young people curate and execute exhibitions with support from teaching artists and ICA staff.

I never thought that at 17 I would have my work hanging in a gallery at the ICA. So many things have become possible for me because of Seaport Studio.

— ICA teen, 17 

In the fall, the first major museum survey dedicated to the pioneering photographer Deana Lawson spanned 15 years of her impactful work investigating and challenging conventional representations of Black life.

You can see in the epic scale and intricate stage-managing of Lawson’s pictures a nod to the centuries-old convention of European history painting, Great Works depicting Great Men — all of them white — turned to the service of ennobling everyday Black life.


Boston Globe

Raúl de Nieves’s joyful, opulent sculptures created with beads, sequins, and other common materials referenced traditional Mexican costume; drag, ballroom, and queer club culture; religious processional attire and iconography; and personal transformation.

Summer Sessions concerts brought audiences to the waterfront on Friday nights for lively evenings with local musicians.

The 2021 James and Audrey Foster Prize celebrated Boston-based artists Marlon Forrester, Eben Haines, and Dell Marie Hamilton, who came together for an inspiring Artist’s Voice talk with curator Jeffrey De Blois.

Napoleon Jones-Henderson: I Am as I Am—A Man was the first major museum exhibition for the artist, an influential community member, educator, and mentor in Roxbury since 1974 and  founding member of the influential artist collective AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists).

The ICA continues to serve as a platform and gathering space for our communities, neighbors, and partners such as Jazz Urbane Cafe—the forthcoming arts venue in Nubian Square—which brought the entire audience to their feet.

The year wrapped up with two exhibitions. A Place for Me: Figurative Painting Now celebrated a resurgence of figurative art with eight emerging painters depicting who and what they love, representing a new generation of artists passionate about the possibilities of painting.

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s Swinguerra, a recent acquisition for the ICA, showcased transgender and nonbinary performers presenting mixed dance styles in Brazil, where music and dance have functioned as discreet methods of political organizing under oppressive regimes.

Acclaimed choreographer Kyle Abraham and his company A.I.M. presented tender, thoughtful dance set to Nina Simone, Bill Evans, Sebastian Bartmann, Nico Muhly, and Beethoven.



At the ICA Watershed, Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms presented large-scale installations by six international artists who reclaim and reuse industrial and everyday materials, deriving inspiration from industry, labor, and the poetic and political power of found goods.

… while Boston-based artist Joe Wardwell created a new, site-specific installation in dialogue with the rich history of labor songs.

The ICA made history at the U.S. Pavilion at the 59th Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia with Simone Leigh: Sovereignty, commissioned in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and on view April 23–November 27, 2022.

The works in Sovereignty extend Leigh’s ongoing inquiry into the theme of self-determination. They will return to the ICA in April 2023 as part of a larger, traveling survey exhibition.