Visit to the ICA Boston

PhotoDon’t push me, ’cause I’m close to the edge…


My sister is in town. I’m going to call her Alice for the purpose of writing this post, though that’s not her real name. Longtime readers recall that Alice is an artist who went to real, actual art school (MICA, in Maryland, which is a wonderful place). Whenever she’s in town, we try to see at least one exhibit at an institution in town. Because I much prefer “classical” art to contemporary, she has indulged me multiple times by going with me to the MFA. There, we’ve contemplates all sorts of great old art and loved it.

This time, she wasn’t having it.

We would have gone to the Peabody/Essex Museum, which I’ve really wanted to visit, but The Husband had the van to take the boys to camp while his car was in the shop. So we hopped on the commuter rail and went to the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, which I’ve never been to before. Alice wanted to see their new exhibit, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-85. Seeing as I’m in a bit of a space and mood, this was perfect for the both of us.

Women with X-Patterned Dress (After Bill Traynor) , 2007  by Robert Pruitt


I was really surprised and delighted by the ICA. I haven’t found a taste for contemporary art… I often find it to be eccentric and inaccessible. I really liked this particular exhibit because of its historical anchor, careful curation and focused exploration of art through the Black Women’s gaze.

I didn’t get the info on this piece, unfortunately. It’s a print of a poster, though. Sorry about that! It’s sad, because this was my favorite piece. I don’t know how I missed the info on it! 🙁

I really enjoyed the recognition and shape of the Black woman’s body in different ways throughout the exhibit. The display of the Black woman’s body as a complex entity: displaying solid strength, yet undeniably beautiful and alluring, with places of softness married with a forbidding power. We are sexy because our bodies have been forged by the fires of history, squeezed from all sized, formed and reformed by a world that wants us for all we are and hates us for all of the same reasons. In this exhibit, our bodies are radical because they are so beautiful and alluring, but also put the hard edge of our internal selves on full display. You see us. We see you. Though this art was made during the Second Wave of Feminism (often in response to, in question of, in demand of participation and recognition in), all of the pieces have powerful relevance to right now as we suffer in a particularly harsh world brought on by constituent groups that benefit from our labor while caring nothing for our needs (as ever. As always).

Revolutionary Sister, 1971 by Dindga McCannon


I was pleasantly surprised by the very helpful, enthusiastic staffers who were all around the exhibit and had interesting information to share about all of the pieces. I was attracted to this piece when I walked into the second room of the exhibit because I noticed it was made of fabric:


When I asked a staff member where the placard for it was, she pointed me to it, but added, “I have more information about this piece if you’re interested. “Sure,” I said. She explained that the dots on the fabric were made from paper and material that she punched with a whole punch. Thousands of little dots. The artist, Howardena Pindell, uses these dots a lot in her work. When she was a young girl, she went to a restaurant with her father in Kentucky and noticed a dot at the bottom of the glass she was drinking from. When asked why there was a dot there, her father explained to her that the mark was for the staff to know which plateware was for colored people and which was for whites. That dot stuck with her and influenced her art.

Having heard the story, an interesting piece became so much more to me. Who knew that a million hole-punched dots could be so powerful? It’s been making me think a lot about the little things that tell stories in my life, and how I can incorporate them into the stories I tell, and even the fabric art that I make.

Closeup of the texture in Carnival at Ostende, 1977 by Howardena Pindell


Intersections of politics and art were also present throughout the exhibit, with interesting histories of different art coalitions and groups that came together and fell apart during this period. I sat with this pretty piece of mixed media for a little bit. The quote of Shirley Chisholm is of interest for me. There was quite a bit about her on display in the exhibit.



Feminist Series #10/20: Of My Two Handicaps, 1972 by Faith Ringgold


These were some of my favorites, but there is so much more to see. Three whole rooms, actually. Alice and I were both expecting something much smaller and felt really satisfied with how much there was to absorb and how much time we got to spend there. If you are a Dear Reader here in the Boston area, I highly recommend you pop over there. It runs until September 30th. If you’re not here, but plan to be, I suggest adding the ICA as a destination. It’s totally worth the trip and, as admission fees go, that $15 per adult wasn’t so bad and we certainly got our money’s worth.

And if you’re wondering, we did wander the other exhibits in the building and there is plenty of other wonderful art to see. I had my moments of “I really don’t understand contemporary art”, and my sister scolded me, and then I moved on. There is some really cool stuff on display right now using mixed media like durags and house dresses and resin:

This is a work from Kevin Beasley. His work is on display in the gallery opposite the Revolution exhibit. I love his use of media, even if I didn’t love all the pieces. Alice did love all of his pieces, though. Guess I’m just under educated. 

There is a bunch to do in the seaport district when you’re done, by the way. Alice and I went to Wagamama’s afterward (it’s practically next door) and found it to be… okay… perhaps a touch overpriced… but there are plenty of other choices. I’m just sayin’, shop around is all..

It’s Wednesday and I’m feeling inspired! Good thing I have a ton of other work to do. Lordy. Hahaha. That’s ok. You fill the jar, you let the muse mull things over, and next thing you know, something beautiful happens. Wait for it, wait for it. I’ll store this all away for now. Seriously, I’m not being paid to write this post or to tell you this: visit the ICA if you’re in town. These two exhibits are especially worth your visit.

See you Friday for Quiet Thoughts.

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