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Eye on you

The new ICA’s pretty, so how’s the art?
By CHRISTOPHER MILLIS  |  December 13, 2006

Oskar Kokoschka is reputed to have asked, if the Louvre were burning and you could rescue either the Mona Lisa or a cat, which would it be? He wasn’t being silly. The question comes down to the fundamental importance of life itself — whether anything that breathes shouldn’t be valued above everything that doesn’t.

JOSIAH MCELHENY’S CZECH MODERNISM MIRRORED AND REFLECTED INFINITELY: A wonder even if it doesn’t get far beyond being a magnificent department-store display case.

I was reminded of Kokoschka’s challenge by the dazzling, and in a curious way humble, space that the ICA now enjoys in its extreme makeover in Fort Point Channel: no matter what sculpture, video, installation, painting, or sculpture you’re looking at, you’re never more than a few feet away from a spectacular panorama of ocean and sky. The glass-sided building beckons you to engage with the wide-open world of possibilities with the same energy and attention with which it invites you to take in the products of human imagination. The architects appear to be reminding artists and audiences alike that the temple to which art belongs has no ceiling, isn’t static or windowless or an isolated retreat but a bright and vibrant and surprising place poised between land and sea.

Only someone who would grab the cat can fully appreciate Leonardo, and only architects who appreciate the necessary limits of art could have created such a superb display case for it. There are five shows currently on exhibit: the intelligent if somewhat predictable “Super Vision”; the permanent collection on view for the first time; the four local finalists for this year’s James and Audrey Foster Prize (formerly the ICA Artist Prize); the latest in the ICA’s “Momentum Series”; and of course the building itself courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Op art and surveillance videos, strobe photography and mirrored vessels, stainless-steel rabbits and laminated-wood sculptures are among the items served up in “Super Vision,” a loosely conceived, eclectic smorgasbord of mostly playful, occasionally provocative, and uniformly accomplished pieces that in various ways riff on the possibilities and improbabilities of seeing. The show serves up a 40-year overview of the intersection of technology and art. At one end live the advances in still photography achieved in the 1960s, notably Harold Edgerton’s experiments in strobe photography at MIT. In his eternally combustible 1964 Shooting the Apple, a bullet suspends in mid air, caught in its exit from the McIntosh. Behind it you can see two luminous, lace-like explosions where it has entered and departed the skin: speed and violence rendered as stillness, an instrument of death partying with an emblem of wholesomeness. What could be more American? Four years after Edgerton’s fast applesauce, the astronauts aboard the Apollo 8 took the first deep-space picture of planet earth, an apple-sized orb bobbing in blackness whose delicate swirls of white clouds over blue oceans remain a reminder, more Christmas ornament than paperweight, of our fragile globe.

One of the most satisfying aspects of “Super Vision,” a by-product of the interior design of the new building, is how it allows you to enjoy video installations without their interfering with other works on display. With its soundproof ante-chambers and carefully choreographed entrances, the new ICA succeeds like few other spaces in honoring the demands made by video artists. Yoko Ono’s 1966 Sky TV, however, occupies wall space alongside more traditional wall hangings. At first it looks like a uniformly sky-blue painting lit from behind; gradually, almost imperceptibly, the painting transforms as the closed-circuit TV that has been turned on the heavens records the changes in the sky.

MONA HATOUM’S CORPS ÉTRANGER: Like looking at a living slide on a phone-booth-sized microscope.
Twenty-eight years later, Mona Hatoum turned a video projector of a different kind on herself. With the help of a physician and an endoscopic camera, you can watch the penetration of the artist’s own orifices while an amplifier projects her breathing and her heartbeats. Hatoum knows better than to allow for such imagery to occupy a wall. Instead, the footage is cast on the black floor of a small, cylindrical white room which you can enter through two doorways. The result is like looking at a living slide on a phone-booth-sized microscope; discomforting revelations abound. Just beyond Hatoum’s Corps étranger (“Foreign Body”), another set of body parts comes to life in a selection from Tony Oursler’s Eyes series. Five white balls, ranging in size from melons to weather balloons and either suspended from the ceiling or resting on the floor, act as screens for five different projectors, each of which casts a video loop of a blinking human eye. One morphs into fire, another into atmospheric phenomena, another into industrial forms.

Captivating, astute, and flawlessly executed, it reminded me of someone I know who can commit to memory the birthdays of everyone he meets. What feels like personal attention, the human gaze, remembering the day you were born, may be little more than a party trick.

1  |  2  |   next >
  • I’m your fan
    The new ICA opens with ‘Super Vision,’ ‘2006 James and Audrey Foster Prize,’ ‘Momentum 6: Sergio Vega,’ and ‘Chiho Aoshima’
  • Game show
    Who will win the ICA's Foster Prize?
  • Rubber soul
    ‘Momentum 11: Nicholas Hlobo’ at the ICA; ‘12 X 12’ in Provincetown
  • More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Oskar Kokoschka , Mona Hatoum , Institute of Contemporary Art ,  More more >
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