Encounters with Art in Our Times
Encounters with Art in Our Times
In this time of uncertainty, change, and heightened inequity, we ask: What is the role of art and museums? i’m yours: Encounters with Art in Our Times, which borrows its title from a Henry Taylor painting in the ICA’s collection, underscores our belief that without you—our visitors—the museum is incomplete. Collaboratively and virtually organized in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition offers a non-linear presentation of artworks in an unfinished architectural environment to emphasize that the stories museums tell through art are never fixed but always in process. Composed of iconic works and new additions to the ICA’s collection, i’m yours presents seven scenes that address a range of ideas, from reflections on home and history, to social and material transformation, to frames of identity in portraiture and sculpture. The ICA, which celebrates its eighty-fifth anniversary in 2021, has always been a laboratory for artistic experimentation. We hope these encounters with art will spark wonder, encourage questions, challenge assumptions, and provide a space for reflection.‘‘
The three works that open this exhibition evoke touch in poetic ways—whether in the outstretched arms of Simone Leigh’s Cupboard IX (2019), the conjoined hands in Louise Bourgeois’s Cell (Hands and Mirror) (1995), or the full-bodied embrace in Joan Semmel’s painting. Cupboard IX fuses a stoneware torso with a domestic vessel for a head and a voluminous raffia skirt to consider notions of gender, motherhood, care, architecture, and domestic labor. In Bourgeois’s theatrical Cell, disembodied, finely carved marble arms are reflected in mirrors installed in a protective yet confining jewel-box clinical-looking structure. These powerful sculptures are joined by Green Heart (1971) by feminist painter Semmel, whose work has engaged with charged eroticism and frank, corporeal self-portraiture. Opening Act sets the stage for audiences to make their own comparisons between not just these three works, but in the exhibition as a whole.‘‘
“I am rooted, but I flow.”
Bridging myth and media, the works gathered here offer unbounded stories of land, history, and the body. Firelei Báez’s monumental Man Without a Country (aka anthropophagist wading in the Artibonite River) (2014–15) anchors the space with hand-drawn illustrations over repurposed archival texts exploring—and interrupting—the history of the Americas. Wangechi Mutu’s precarious and adorned Blackthrone VIII (2012) appears both towering and transitory, with ordinary materials unexpectedly fused together in an incomplete sculptural journey, while Nalini Malani’s looped video sketch Penelope (2012) plays with myth, riddle, and storytelling to mimic the restless cycle of self-discovery. Finally, Caitlin Keogh’s illustrative Blank Melody, Old Wall (2018) depicts disembodied feminine motifs untied to and ungrounded from fixed environments, musing on the creative balance found in open-ended renewal.‘‘
“As soon as we become accustomed to the silent presence of a thing,
it gets broken or disappears. My ties to the people around me were also
marked by those two modes of impermanence: breaking up or disappearing.”
Artists have long reflected on loss, death, and destruction, meditating through their artwork on the aftermath of destruction and the possibility for creative production from what remains. In Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson) (1999), Cornelia Parker strings together charred wooden pieces of a destroyed building to form a suspended sculpture. For Atrabiliarios (1996), Doris Salcedo collects the shoes of women who had been disappeared (presumed abducted and killed) during the Colombian conflict (1967–present), objects she encases in the wall to make palpable the absence of these women. Marlene Dumas’s large-scale paintings in The Messengers (1992) bring together three renderings of skeletons with a portrait of her own daughter, and Nan Goldin’s photograph, Chrissy with her 100-year-old Grandmother, Provincetown (1977), captures a momentary connection between two women at different points in their lives. Together, these works attest to the forces of loss, death, and destruction, as well as those of tenderness and care, that form our human condition.‘‘
“Perhaps home is not a place, but
simply an irrevocable condition.”
Amid an ongoing pandemic, conventional ideas of home have shifted to become an office, school, and gym, but also a place of boredom, confinement, and loss. These personal narratives are central to the works in this grouping, whether in the rethinking of familiar objects from home, such as teacups in Mona Hatoum’s T42 (1993–98), or the linoleum (a material ubiquitous in many kitchens) found in Diane Simpson’s Vest (Scalloped) (2010). Ideas of domesticity emerge in Cindy Sherman’s staged Untitled Film Still #3 (1977), a send-up of conventional gender roles. Family ties and relationships play a large part in artists’ reflections on home. Toyin Ojih Odutola’s Heir Apparent (2018) imagines the lives of two fictional Nigerian families joined by marriage, while Nan Goldin captures intimate moments with the families we choose to make. The exhibition’s most recent work, Rania Matar’s Orly and Ruth (2020), a photograph taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, offers a glimpse into lives in isolation.‘‘
“To understand materials is to be
able to tell their histories.”
The works gathered here explore the history and symbolic significance of familiar, everyday materials through new combinations. Tara Donovan’s Untitled (Pins) (2003) is a cube made of thousands of metal dressmaker’s pins that recalls the unitary forms of minimalist sculptures, though here the object is fragile, bound together by surface tension. In Kader Attia’s video Oil and Sugar #2 (2007), sugar cubes are dissolved by motor oil, mirroring, perhaps, the complex and destructive relationships that these materials have in history, politics, and the environment. The inert American flag at the center of Cady Noland’s sculptural assemblage Objectification Process (1989) is still sealed in plastic packaging inside an orthopedic walker, suggesting a powerful critique of American symbols of national unity and pageantry.‘‘
“There is power in looking.”
Where is power located in the act of looking, and what does it mean to be seen? The works in this space stage an encounter in which the viewer is both seeing and being seen—and question the power dynamics assumed in such relations. Some works, such as Zanele Muholi’s suite of photographs and Collier Schorr’s candid portrait, expand ideas of visual agency and self-representation. Others interrogate conventions such as identification photography: Thomas Ruff’s dramatic shift in scale and Rineke Dijkstra’s double portrait both trouble the notion that portraits reveal vital aspects about identity. Several portraits depict subjects with a sense of tenderness and care through painting, as in Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s layered painting of a young Nigerian girl or Chantal Joffe’s intimate self-portrait with her child. Another painting captures its sitters in an unsettled emotional and psycho-logical state: Henry Taylor’s family portrait i’m yours (2015) —which gives this exhibition its title—portrays the artist and his two grown children with a sense of resolve and perhaps a degree of weariness. Taken together, these portraits explore both the furtive possibilities and persistent questions related to the power of seeing and being seen.‘‘
“You have to act as if it were possible
to radically transform the world.
And you have to do it all the time.”
This final scene offers a glimpse into the long history of performance art and social critique with two artists who stage questions of race, visibility, and disenfranchisement in their works. Between 1980 and 1983, Lorraine O’Grady performed as a fictional, 1950s beauty queen named Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, or Mademoiselle Black Middle-Class. Arriving uninvited to gallery and museum openings throughout New York, O’Grady’s glamorous and unforgettable alter ego disrupted these private events to expose the racism and sexism rampant in the art world. Similar in its critique of class and privilege, Nari Ward’s 1996 performance involved the artist pushing his sculpture Savior (1996) down 125th Street in Harlem, New York. Recalling a traveling salesman, religious figure, or itinerant person, Ward’s performance puts forward his towering sculpture—constructed from discarded objects—as a kind of talisman against a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. O’Grady and Ward employ the incisive power of unsanctioned performance art in the public sphere, reshaping the world one act at a time.‘‘
Every exhibition is the result of collaborative work. In the process of developing this exhibition, the curators engaged in multiple conversations with artists, educators, and professionals within and outside the museum. The ICA Curatorial Department thanks the many individuals we consulted for their guidance, generosity, and partnership, especially our colleagues throughout the museum. We extend our deepest thanks to the artists in the exhibition.
The following individuals helped to install this exhibition and its digital platform: Dirk Adams; Elena Brunner; Matthew Christensen, Editor; Jesse Collins; Acassia Ferreira da Cunha; Zelana Davis, Exhibitions Coordinator; Sophia DiLibero; Adric Giles; Alison Hatcher, Senior Registrar; Gina Janovitz, Graphic Designer; Anthony Montuori; Hailey Mulvey; Shane Murray; Toru Nakanishi, Preparator; Savanna Nelson; Abigail Newbold, Director of Exhibitions; Tim Obetz, Chief Preparator; Ami Pourana, Creative Director; Sopheak Sam, Marketing Associate, Content and Digital; Bella Steele; Carrie Van Horn, Associate Registrar; Kris Wilton, Director of Creative Content and Digital Engagement.
Organized by Jeffrey De Blois, Assistant Curator and Publications Manager; Ruth Erickson, Mannion Family Curator; Anni Pullagura, Curatorial Assistant; and Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator.
Installation photography by Mel Taing.
Additional support is generously provided by Lori and Dennis Baldwin and The Paul and Phyllis
Fireman Charitable Foundation; Ed Berman and Kate McDonough; Clark and Susana Bernard;
Kate and Chuck Brizius; Paul and Katie Buttenwieser; Stephanie and John Connaughton; Karen
and Brian Conway; Steve Corkin and Dan Maddalena; Jean-François and Nathalie Ducrest;
Bridgitt and Bruce Evans; the Ewald Family Foundation; Sandra and Gerald Fineberg; James
and Audrey Foster; Hilary and Geoffrey Grove; Vivien and Alan Hassenfeld and the Hassenfeld
Family Foundation; Jodi and Hal Hess; Marina Kalb and David Feinberg; Barbara Lee; Tristin
and Martin Mannion; Aedie and John McEvoy; Ted Pappendick and Erica Gervais Pappendick;
The Red Elm Tree Charitable Foundation; Charles and Fran Rodgers; Mark and Marie Schwartz;
Kambiz and Nazgol Shahbazi; Kim Sinatra; Charlotte and Herbert S. Wagner III; and anonymous