A Tour of Recent Works at ICA South Boston Seaport.

By Richard Campbell

As the South Boston Seaport is sprouting buildings and businesses at a maddening pace, it’s a good idea to review one of the pioneers of the Seaport renaissance, The Institute of Contemporary Art Museum. I’ll be the first to admit a lot of contemporary conceptual art strikes me as plain weird, but the current installations at the ICA have more gravitas than some of the works I’ve seen there in the past- and contain provocative pieces that are especially timely. The museum has a very friendly staff that interacts with patrons in an easy going way to bring out the stories of pieces by filling in details or pointing out aspects of the creative process one might not see immediately. The quirky architecture of the ICA still confuses me a little even after vising multiple times, but you must take a ride on the separate big glass elevator to understand the building- I dubbed it the Coolovator.

Currently featured until July 9th is the exhibition of the James and Audrey Foster Prize winners, who are local Boston artists exploring a variety of complex subjects in larges installations that often include video as well as wall art and sculptures. The general description of the work emphasizes a “tactile approach to cultural, psychological, and historical resonances.” It was the work of Lucy Kim from Watertown, MA that originally drew this writer to this collection, as her process of using live models with plaster to create sculptures that echoes classical wall reliefs: made from the bodies of a plastic surgeon, a fitness trainer, and a geneticist, are all complex reflections on the human body. They are powerful pieces that have a majestic quality.
Sonia Almeida, an artist who came from Lisbon who has been living in Boston since 2008 has work that fits more into print and design iconography to me- utilizing paintings and artist’s books in tandem to explore non-verbal communication. Some part of her works were like puzzles, or arrangements of a series that allow you to see a progression. Jennifer Bornstein’s room seemed very influenced by art in the seventies, particularly Segal’s plaster pieces, as well as wall rubbings that reminded me of Warhol’s silk screens. She also had video pieces of mice in mazes that were bewildering and funny. People who remember doing grave rubbings as kids, or iconic jean jackets and objects of found art will appreciate her work especially. There is a playful, elemental quality to her work that kids will like, but upon looking closely you will find some pretty sophisticated processes created the drawings and sculptures- and some of the messages that accompany this are more serious than you might think.

International artists Lucien Castaing-Taylor from Liverpool, UK, and Véréna Paravel, originally from Switzerland, based in Cambridge created a video piece Leviathan that was shot on a commercial fishing boat in New Bedford indeed had a “visceral” quality to it, kind of a cross between surgery and cleaning fish and is not recommended to people planning on eating seafood in the Seaport district the day of the visit.

An artist that was not part of the awards had a particularly large multi room showing. “Nari Ward: Sun Splashed” opened in April and features about forty works. This Jamaican artist has a myriad of talents including high resolution photography, sculpture, painting, and large scale installations casting a wide range of subjects. Though much of his work seems to be about the culture of Jamaica in a humorous vein, there is a universal civil rights aspect to the work that speaks seriously directly to the world we live in. Issues like immigration, cultural identity, homelessness, and nationalist political dynamics run through his works. “We the People” is a large wall sculpture of those words made with colorful thread and shoelaces. He uses a lot of recycled materials, and some pieces are amusing in a provocative way. The big snowman sculptures made of foam and recycled electronics, called “Mango Tourists” were imposing and odd. I really enjoyed “Happy Smilers” a complete architectural installation that was decorated with plants, firehoses, juice bottles a fire escape and had accompanying sounds- it had a distinctly Caribbean feeling to it. In the end of the day the world that is cast, painted, filmed, drawn and painted by the artists at the ICA gives one the distinct feeling that when we are not alarmed or provoked, we may be mildly amused.

The immersion experience of the ICA is different than most any museum you’ll ever attend, and after more than 10 years in its new location, it continues the tradition of supporting major living artists. Of course there are many permanent installations and works at the ICA, but these are the ones that will be featured in the next few months. Starting in June there are a series of dance and music performances happening on Thursday and Friday evenings, and Saturday afternoons. For more on those see their calendar


Sonia Almeida: “Human K”

Jennifer Bornstein: “New Rubbings and Psychological Tests”

Nari Ward: “Happy Smilers”