Institute of Contemporary Arts in London
The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) is an artistic and cultural centre on The Mall in London, just off Trafalgar Square. It is located within Nash House, part of Carlton House Terrace, near the Duke of York Steps and Admiralty Arch. It contains galleries, a theatre, two cinemas, a bookshop and a bar.
The ICA was founded by Roland Penrose, Peter Watson, Herbert Read, Peter Gregory, Geoffrey Grigson and E.L.T. Mesens in 1946. The ICA's founders intended to establish a space where artists, writers and scientists could debate ideas outside the traditional confines of the Royal Academy. The first exhibitions were held in rented premises organised by Penrose, '40 Years of Modern Art' was followed by '40,000 Years of Modern Art' reflecting his interest in primitivism.
In the late 1940s, the ICA met in the basement of the Academy of Cinema, 165 Oxford Street. The Academy Cinema building included the Pavilion, a restaurant, and the Marquee ballroom in the basement, the building was owned by George Hoellering the film, jazz and big band promoter .
In December 1950, the ICA's first regular premises was opened at 17-18 Dover Street, with Ewan Phillips being its first director. It was the former residence of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. The interior design was by Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry, with the collaboration of Eduardo Paolozzi, Nigel Henderson, Neil Morris and Terence Conran.
Ewan Phillips left in 1951, and Dorothy Morland was asked to take over temporarily, but stayed there as director for eighteen years, until the move to the more spacious Nash House. The critic Reyner Banham acted as assistant Director during the early 1950s, followed by Lawrence Alloway during the mid to later 1950s. In its early years, the Institute organised exhibitions of modern art including Picasso and Jackson Pollock. It also launched Pop art, Op art, and British Brutalist art and architecture. The Independent Group met at the ICA in 1952–1962/63 and organised several exhibitions, including This Is Tomorrow.
With the support of the Arts Council, the ICA moved to its current site at Nash House in 1968. For a period during the 1970s the Institute was known for its often anarchic programme and administration. Norman Rosenthal was director of exhibitions at this time, and he was once assaulted by a group of people who were living in the upper floors of the building at the time. A bloodstain on the wall of the administrative offices is preserved under glass, with a note reading "this is Normans's blood". Rosenthal claims the group which assaulted him included the actor Keith Allen.
Bill McAllister was ICA Director from 1977–1990, when the Institute developed a system of separate departments specialising in visual art; cinema; and theatre, music and performance art. A fourth department was devoted to talks and lectures. Press Officer Sandy Broughton was responsible for publicising the ICA in her tenure from 1978 to 1986, and she is credited with raising the profile of the Institute and bringing "a much-needed touch of professionalism to the ICA" Iwona Blazwick was Director of Exhibitions from 1986 to 1993.
Mik Flood took over as director of the ICA in 1990 after McAllister's resignation. Flood announced that the Institute would have to leave its Mall location and move to a larger site, a plan which ultimately came to nothing. He also oversaw a sponsorship scheme whereby the electrical goods company Toshiba paid to have their logo included on every piece of ICA publicity for three years, and in effect changed the name of the ICA to ICA/Toshiba. He was replaced as Director in 1997 by Philip Dodd.
In 2002, the then ICA Chairman Ivan Massow criticised what he described as 'concept art', leading to his resignation.
The ICA appointed Ekow Eshun Artistic Director in 2005 following the departure of Philip Dodd. Under Eshun's directorship the Live Arts Department was closed down in 2008, the charge for admission for non members was abandoned (resulting a reduction of membership numbers and a cash shortfall), the Talks Department lost all its personnel, and many commentators argued that the Institute suffered from a lack of direction.
A large financial deficit led to redundancies and resignations of key staff. Art critic JJ Charlesworth saw Eshun’s directorship as a direct cause of the ICA’s ills. He criticized his reliance on private sponsorship, his cultivation of a "cool" ICA brand, and his focus on a cross-disciplinary approach that was put in place "at the cost," Charlesworth wrote, "of a loss of curatorial expertise." Problems between staff and Eshun, sometimes supported by the Chairman of the ICA Board, Alan Yentob, led to fractious and difficult staff relations. Eshun resigned in August 2010.
The ICA appointed Mark Sladen as Director of Exhibitions in 2007 to replace Jens Hoffmann who was appointed Director of the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in 2006. Sladen left the post in 2010.
Alison Myners replaced Alan Yentob as Chair of the ICA Council in October 2010.
The ICA appointed Gregor Muir as its new Executive Director in January 2011, taking up his post on 7 February 2011.
Notable exhibitions and events
1948: The UK’s first show of work by Pablo Picasso
1952-53: Pop Art is born after a lecture, Bunk!, by Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Jackson Pollock features in a show called Opposing Forces.
1957: First UK screening of the French film Hurlements en Faveur de Sade by Guy Debord, which caused riots when shown in Paris because it mostly featured a black screen and silence.
1966-68: Yoko Ono contributes to a symposium on the disappearance of the art object.
1968: The inaugural exhibition in the Nash building The Obsessive Image features a waxwork model of a dead hippie by Paul Thek. The Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition features computers, pulsing TV screens and a mosaic floor made of coloured lights.
1976: Mary Kelly exhibits 22 fouled nappy liners captioned with the food that the incumbent baby had consumed. A retrospective of COUM Transmissions (Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti who subsequently formed Throbbing Gristle) entitled Prostitution features sanitary towels and explicit photographs.
1986: Helen Chadwick’s stinking pile of rotting vegetables, Carcass, is removed after complaints from neighbours and a visit by health inspectors.
1989: Gerhard Richter shows black and white oil paintings of the Baader-Meinhoff gang inspired by contemporary newspaper and police photographs.
1991: Damien Hirst’s exhibition International Affairs, his first solo exhibition in a public gallery, features glass cases containing items such as a desk, cigarette packets and an ashtray.
1994: A video camera is set up in the men’s toilets, and real-time images of urinating visitors are relayed to a screen in the theatre in a piece by Rosa Sanchez.
1994: The world's first Cybercafe is held in the ICA theatre.
1996: Jake and Dinos Chapman display Tragic Anatomies, sculptures of children with genitalia in place of facial features, as part of their exhibition Chapman World.
1996: The Onedotzero digital film festival is hosted at the ICA for the first time.
1997: Four glamour girls, naked from the waist down, mill about the building for a piece by video artist Vanessa Beecroft.
2000-05: The annual Beck’s Futures prize is set up to celebrate the work of emerging artists.
2005: The George and Dragon pub in E2 is recreated in the name of contemporary art, curated by Gregor Muir, as part of the ICA exhibition London in Six Easy Steps.
2006: The Alien Nation exhibition is presented with inIVA, exploring the complex relationship between science fiction, race and contemporary art. Among the featured artists are Laylah Ali, Hew Locke and Yinka Shonibare.
2008: Over a six-month period, and as part of the ICA's 60th birthday year, the exhibition Nought to Sixty presents 60 emerging artists based in Britain and Ireland.
2010: The first major solo exhibition of cult figure, artist, musician and writer, Billy Childish, is presented at the ICA.
2011: The ICA hosts Bruderskriegsoundsystem, the latest project from Edwin Burdis, Mark Leckey, Kieron Livingston and Steven Claydon. Pablo Bronstein's exhibition Sketches for Regency Living takes over all of the ICA building for the first time in its history.
- Gregor Muir, current Executive Director
- Ekow Eshun, former Artistic Director
- Jens Hoffmann, former Director of Exhibitions
- Norman Rosenthal, former Director of Exhibitions
- Alexander "Sandy" Nairne, former Director of Exhibitions
- Johnny Sandelson, former Council member