ICA announces a set of immersive and experiential exhibitions to launch in early 2019

Installations include new and recent work by multidisciplinary artists Cauleen Smith, Irena Haiduk and Martine Syms

Exterior view of an art gallery.
The VCU entrance to the Markel Center. (Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU)

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University will kick off 2019 with two exhibitions featuring work by artists Cauleen Smith, Irena Haiduk and Martine Syms.

Both exhibitions — “Dialogues: Irena Haiduk + Martine Syms” and “Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It” —will open Feb. 15.

“Artists and visitors alike come to the ICA to be inspired — by the art, the architecture and the vibrant cultural landscape of Richmond,” said Dominic Willsdon, who begins his role as the ICA’s executive director Dec. 1. “I am thrilled to join the ICA at this exciting time, as we launch the 2019 season with a series of projects that stem from this inspiration, interacting with the distinctive topography of the Markel Center to produce meaningful and thought-provoking experiences for those who encounter them.”

Convening the work of three artists who use diverse media such as video, installation, sound, performance and photography, the ICA will be filled with immersive and experiential installations. These exhibitions build off the ICA’s commitment to presenting socially informed art that engages local, national and international audiences in conversations about the current moment.

A woman stands in front of a screen reading "what do I owe em ??"
Installation view, Martine Syms, Big Surprise, Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York.

Inspired by the architecture of the ICA’s Markel Center, the Dialogues series pairs two artists in the distinctive “V” shape of the second-floor galleries. Each artist occupies their own space, but the series invites consideration of overlap, resonance and difference between their practices.

In the inaugural exhibition of the Dialogues series, artists Haiduk and Syms will produce new projects, titled respectively “Tableaux Économique” and “Shame Space,” which extend the artists’ involvement with installations that invite active participation from audience members.

Co-curated by Stephanie Smith, chief curator, and Amber Esseiva, assistant curator, “Dialogues: Irena Haiduk + Martine Syms” will be on view through May 12.

“Bridging perspectives and artistic approaches allows for a richer conversation,” Smith said. “It’s exciting to launch the series by producing important new projects that bring two strong voices — artists who are imagining new ways to occupy institutions — into dialogue with each other, with the building itself, and with our audiences.”

In Haiduk’s “Tableaux Économique,” the ICA’s physical, technical and interpersonal infrastructures assume the form of an economy. The tableau is an interior architecture operating in two modes: leisure mode, in a state of rest, and labor mode, when attendants transact verbally and financially with visitors, communicating the equivalence between people and things.

“It is with pleasure that we bring the visionary work of these two powerful artists to the ICA,” Esseiva said. “Both Syms and Haiduk explore structures that we as citizens engage with every day, and their work offers a reminder of the power of artists to help reimagine our futures.”

Syms, Haiduk’s counterpart in Dialogues, uses a combination of video, installation and performance interwoven with explorations into technique and narrative to examine representations of blackness and their relationship to vernacular, feminist thought and radical traditions in “Shame Space.” Through short message service conversations with a chatbot programmed by the artist, gallery viewers can control the appearance of animation, image and text across the monitors, live-editing the narrative of “Shame Space.”

“Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It” will travel to the ICA following its September premiere at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. The solo exhibition of film, video and sculpture will fill the VCU ICA’s Beverly W. Reynolds Gallery and reach into the adjacent Royall Forum with an overlapping series of immersive installations. Taking its title from the phrase “take it or leave it,” “Give It or Leave It” cultivates a spirit of generosity, hospitality and selflessness, and proposes a new rule for a better world: Creating something, offering it, and gifting it, regardless of recognition, acceptance or rejection.

View of an art gallery.
Installation view, Cauleen Smith, Give It or Leave It, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Philadelphia.

Establishing the thematic core of the exhibition are two new films — “Pilgrim” and “Sojourner” — that navigate four distinct universes: musician Alice Coltrane (1937-2007) and her ashram; a 1966 photo shoot by Bill Ray at the Watts Towers; Noah Purifoy (1917-2004) and his desert assemblages; and black spiritualist Rebecca Cox Jackson (1795-1871) and her Shaker community. For Smith, each of these sites embodies an act of creativity and radical generosity rooted in current events and social communities, allowing her to reimagine a future that is black, feminist, spiritual and unabashedly alive.

“Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave” is curated by Anthony Elms, chief curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, and coordinated at the ICA at VCU by Stephanie Smith, Esseiva and Enjoli Moon, adjunct assistant curator of film. The exhibition will be on view through May 5.

Cauleen Smith’s exhibition also will include a site-specific application of colored film gel to exterior windows of the Markel Center, which will temporarily bring new hues to the building’s facade and create shifting pools of color within interior spaces as light moves across the building.