Since it was founded in 1936, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art has moved its main location and support spaces over 13 times before finding its home at Fan Pier in 2006. With a building designed to resemble a gantry crane at a shipyard, the current location consists of 65,000 square feet dedicated to showcasing works of artists including Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorp, Nan Goldin, and many more. Though it was originally envisioned as a “renegade offspring” of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and was in fact named the Boston Museum of Modern Art when it was built, the name was changed in 1948 to “[distance] itself from the ideological inflections the term ‘modern’ has accrued in favor of its original meaning: ‘that which exists now.’” The museum was the first in the United States to show work by many artists including Edvard Munch (who is now famous for his painting The Scream) and Le Corbusier and the first solo show for graphic artist Shepard Fairey, Allen Sekula, and Cornelia Parker, among others. Its dedication to showcasing new and up-and-coming artists gives it an exciting feel – you’re never quite sure whose work you’ll come across or what new artist you may find yourself moved or challenged by.
Though the building seems quite large as it looms over the harbor, the actual exhibit space feels much smaller than MoMA or MASS MoCA, and can be easily toured in an afternoon. One highlight was Yayoi Kusama’s LOVE IS CALLING installation, in which visitors enter a darkened room with large, brightly-colored tentacles extending from the floor and ceiling. The mirrored walls cause the room to appear to stretch off into infinity, with thousands of polka-dotted tentacles receding into the horizon. It’s a fun and striking experience, with more playfulness than perhaps one expects of contemporary art installations.
We also enjoyed Rose B. Simpson’s Legacies exhibit, which consisted of expressive and imaginative ceramic figures covered with lines and symbols. Simpson, a mixed-media artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, NM, incorporates metals, tools, and even car parts into her sculptures, which gives a sense of both the Native American cultures that they draw from, but also hint at what the world might look like if our current society collapsed. Part of the draw of the exhibit is that the figures clearly seem to be part of a story, but that story is left to the viewer to decipher.
We also explored the exhibit To Begin Again: Artists and Childhood, in which artists ranging from Deborah Roberts and Njideka Akunyili Crosby to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Paul Klee reimagined childhood through their work. Sometimes playful, sometimes haunting, the display included painting and sculpture, and even a room of children’s books.
While we didn’t get anything from the café, the gift shop had a terrific selection of well-curated tchotchkes, art books, and gifts. Overall, aside from the issue of finding parking in the area, we enjoyed our visit and would stop back again in the future. Like any museum, not every exhibit will speak to every patron, but if you leave finding a few artists you really enjoy, the visit has been a success!
Matthew Christopher MA Boston Feb 15, 2023 Arts Museums Places to Visit