Less than a 15-minute walk from Drexel’s campus, Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art houses rotating temporary exhibits, showcasing famous contemporary works from around the globe. Entrance to the museum is free, and the exhibits shown change every few months. This summer, three unique exhibitions are displayed, each of which showcases varying perspectives and conveys different messages.
The first floor holds the largest exhibition on display this season, “Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective.” Tony Conrad was an avant-garde artist who used various methods to push the boundaries of how art was viewed. A multimedia exhibit, this display of Tony Conrad’s works includes videos, music and visual art.
Entering the first floor exhibition, I was immediately overwhelmed by a symphony of recordings, all which Conrad had worked on in some way. Near the entrance to the gallery there stands a series of arranged items, which are explained as instruments Conrad made out of unlikely tools. As with many other pieces in this exhibit, there is a recording paired with the instruments, demonstrating how they would sound if one were to play them. Attached to the large gallery spaces, there are many small rooms running videos that Conrad produced. As I worked my way through this first floor, the displays shifted from musical pieces to more visual works, some of which featuring several televisions arranged with different dialogue or commentary shown on each one. Video is present in most aspects of Conrad’s work, which is not surprising, as that is what he is best known for.
In the final room of the gallery space, there is a large cage with beds inside, accompanied by a video from inside a prison studio that Conrad constructed. This video is composed of improvised dialogue between inmates and guards, but it is an interesting take on the prison system and the ways in which prisons are viewed from the outside.
In another commentary of power and perspective, there is a video in that final room where the seating area is separated by civilians and military. The viewers’ roles are designated from the beginning of the exhibit, where each viewer is given a nametag with their designated category. Although the video each person watches is the same, the separation of roles gives each category a different perspective for viewing the heavily-improvised video.
After exiting the exhibition of Conrad’s works, I walked up a ramp and arrived at the second exhibition on display: “Colored People Time: Quotidian Pasts.” In a corner of the one-room gallery, a series of videos from the early 1900s is shown where white anthropologists analyze and discuss pieces of African art. In the center of the room are 3D-printed replicas of statues from African culture, made by notable black artist Matthew Angelo Harrison. The combination of these modernized pieces of culture, paired with the ill-informed videos from the past, tells the story of a misunderstood history, twisted by those who were never a part of that culture.
The final exhibition is “Deborah Anzinger: An Unlikely Birth.” The one-room gallery is filled with works by this Jamaica-based artist. The walls hold abstract pieces that seem to be made in-part with synthetic black hair and pastel-colored paints. In the center of the room, there stands a wooden hut installation, with plants lining the walls and a video projected onto the wall. Many of Anzinger’s works contain commentary of the degrading environment, as well as the ways in which one’s identity shapes their experience. The combination of materials and medium conveyed this commentary in a very abstract yet effective way.
After leaving the exhibit, I can definitely say that the ICA is a gem, and it conveniently stashed only a short walk from campus. The three current exhibitions will be shown until August 11, where they will then be replaced by different artists’ works. I personally enjoyed each collection shown in a different way, and I think that the displays are diverse enough to be interesting to an array of people. Whether you enjoy videography, music, visual art, culture, history or anthropology, I believe there will be something that may pique your interest. If you have time before finals week, I would recommend taking a short trip over to the University of Pennsylvania’s campus to experience some interesting contemporary art at no cost.