Arts in the City: The Institute of Contemporary Art

This weekend I decided to explore Philadelphia. I was in University City after an event at UPenn and I wasn’t quite ready to leave. I had no plans as to where I wanted to go or how long it would take me to get there, but I knew I wanted to see something new. With my lack of organization and camera in hand, I began my trip through the city.

I stopped in random stores and coffee shops, where the drinks were frighteningly overpriced and not particularly good, until I walked by a large building covered in windows. I started to walk by it when I changed my mind and walked inside. I was enticed by the photo opportunities the site offered and by the building’s simplistic beauty. I didn’t really know what it was but I figured it was worth a look. I was greeted by a smiling face explaining to me that I had entered the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), a free art museum in Philadelphia. There were three exhibits at the ICA this weekend: “Tag: Proposals on Queer Play and the Ways Forward,” “Cary Leibowitz: Museum Show,” and “Broadcasting: EAI at ICA.”

The first thing I walked through was the “Tag” exhibit organized by artist Nayland Blake. The works consist of powerful images and films that highlight the experiences of queer folks. In one corner of the room there is a game table where people are invited to create stories together inspired by suggestions on playing cards.

According to the ICA, the exhibition “… explores how the expanding influence of digital and online technologies, fandom subcultures, and artistic discourse has created new possibilities for queer identification, changing how personal roles and forms of expression are defined in contemporary society.” The works featured allowed the artists and viewers to consider and explore themes of interracial and same-sex relationships, along with issues of bigotry.

As I moved to to the second level of the ICA I reached an entrance blocked by a black curtain. I passed through the curtain into a pitch-black room where screens are all over the walls throughout the room. This is the “Broadcasting: EAI at ICA” exhibit. It is a combination of works from intergenerational artists that have created pieces that are based on specific time periods. It is meant to foster communications between artists who have been “early innovators and contemporary practitioners” according to the ICA. The exhibit highlights the developments and changes of broadcasting over time.

After I moved to the next exhibit I was hit by a stark contrast between rooms. As I moved from the almost eerie darkness I immediately entered a room with bright pink walls. This is titled “Cary Leibowitz: Museum Show,” which features almost three hundred and fifty of  Leibowitz’s never-before-seen works. In his work he tackles social issues through a gay and Jewish perspective. In his art he “…explores his own anxieties, neuroses, and insecurities as he attempts to expose truths about contemporary society…” His art serves as a powerful end to the exhibits currently showing at the ICA because of its deeply emotional and personal nature. His work inspires the viewer to examine themselves and their own lives, making it the perfect ending.

Leibowitz’s work certainly left a mark on me, giving me something incredibly beautiful to ponder while sitting through a twenty minute train delay. I was so glad that I decided to wander into that building this weekend. Though it’s often hard to find the time or the money to explore the city of Philadelphia, the Institute of Contemporary Art provides a great (free!) way to learn something new off campus while also gaining a new perspective on how others see the world.


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