The artists’ view

By GREG COOK  |  November 30, 2006

This is the magic local artists hope the new ICA will do for many more of them when they call for the ICA to show more locals and be increasingly engaged here. (And they desperately hope that collectors notice.) The ICA’s ability to raise the stature of local artists rests in part on how local art mixes with work from out of town. Some say the ICA has presented local and out-of-town art equally, underlining their common achievement. Others believe that exhibitions like the ICA Prize ghettoize locals. They want more local artists in ICA surveys.

Medvedow argues that this is what the ICA has done by including Brookline photographer Maria Magdalena Compos-Pons in “Getting Emotional” (2005), Northampton painter and sculptor Richard Yarde in “Pulse: Art, Healing and Transformation” (2003), and several Bay Staters in “Collectors Collect Contemporary 1990-’99” (1999). Locals have also exhibited in the ICA’s Vita Brevis program, temporary public-art displays around Boston that are another way the ICA engages the city.

But as one artist said of the ICA Prize, “Is four artists every two years enough?” One might ask the same of the number of artists in ICA surveys. And what about major shows of local artists? In February the Indianapolis Museum of Art will open a mid-career retrospective of Compos-Pons. The exhibit has no New England venue.

There was no call for the ICA to reflect any Boston group or sensibility, because no one could identify any particular current Boston style. Some argue that in our increasingly interconnected era local styles are becoming extinct. I’d disagree. Boston and Providence folks (Ron Regé Jr., Fort Thunder, Paper Rad) were major players in the art-comics movement in the years book-ending the millennium and the ICA missed it. Today some artists call for greater ICA attention to “media art,” art incorporating new technologies. Boston seems a budding center for this stuff — just look at the Boston Cyberarts Festival, Axiom Gallery, and Art Interactive.

The tension between local and out-of-town is common to museums of contemporary art — and Boston’s inferiority complex relative to New York makes it an acute tension. Davis asks, “How do we recognize ourselves? I think it’s a miracle this building is being built. I feel like one of the reasons she [Medvedow] wants that building built is because she doesn’t want Boston to be a satellite city anymore.”

The ICA, as Medvedow acknowledges, has always had a global outlook; it has aimed to “support artists of our time in meaningful ways who participate in those ideas that we see to be current and important.” Locals don’t want to be graded on a curve; they want to compete with art from everywhere and win. Deep down, the ICA’s actions have seemed to whisper that most art being made here is not as important as the art it imports from elsewhere. There’s a difficult truth here: much Boston art suffers from playing it safe. But Boston artists worth their salt should take it as a challenge.

Art in balance: The new ICA’s feng shui
The old Institute of Contemporary Art on Boylston Street sat on a restless street in an old police station, always feeling awkward, pinched. It had bad feng shui.

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