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First Light Shines at the ICA

Nick Cave, "Soundsuit," 2009.


A Decade of Diversity and Inclusion

by Joshua Ascherman

Despite the surge in identity-interested art production that occurred in the 1990s — a time when some artists were thinking specifically about inequality within the art world itself — there are still art museums in the United States that have a problem with diversity and inclusion.

This is not so at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, which has made it a mission to collect works that
“examine the most urgent social and political issues of our time.” In “First Light: A Decade of Collecting at the ICA,” the museum commemorates its 2006 move to a gorgeous Diller Scofidio + Renfro building on the waterfront by putting some of the highlights of its collection on display; one of the first things that viewers will notice is the show’s strong focus on art by women. In fact, women artists comprise nearly two-thirds of the ICA’s entire collection.

The new show is anchored by myriad familiar names: Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman. However, it also spotlights the ultra-contemporary. A recently acquired work by famed “Marvelous Sugar Baby” artist Kara Walker — a monumental cut-paper wall installation — is one of the centerpieces of “First Light”; Walker will give a talk at the museum in November. “The silhouette has become Walker’s signature means of interrogating the highly
fraught histories of slavery, racism, and gender discrimination in the United States,” the museum notes in regard to the piece, which is titled “The Nigger Huck Finn Pursues Happiness Beyond the Narrow Constraints of Your Overdetermined Thesis on Freedom — Drawn and Quartered by Mister Kara Walkerberry, with Condolences to the Authors”; the piece uses charged images to discuss race and historicity.

Of the artists shown who are not female-identified, many were or are queer, such as Andy Warhol, or of color, like Nick Cave and Paul Chan.

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