Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU unveils fall 2018 exhibitions

Projects by Rashid Johnson, Abbas Akhavan, David Hartt, Jonathas de Andrade, Julianne Swartz and Pascale Marthine Tayou will open Oct. 17.

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“Provocations” by artist Rashid Johnson.
“Provocations” by artist Rashid Johnson.

This fall, the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University will present two exhibitions featuring leading international contemporary artists, including two new site-specific commissions.

Opening simultaneously on Oct. 17, “Provocations: Rashid Johnson” and “Hedges, Edges, Dirt” explore socially and culturally specific issues in nuanced, conceptual and poetic ways. Through these, the ICA will continue presenting exhibitions that engage audiences with dynamic programming on themes of social relevance and local resonance.

“Building from our inaugural exhibition, ‘Declaration,’ we have continued to ask what the ICA can contribute to our place and time,” said Stephanie Smith, ICA chief curator. “These new projects by an extraordinary group of artists will activate the Markel Center in fresh and beautiful ways and catalyze conversations that reach beyond our walls.”

To launch the ICA’s commission series “Provocations,” artist Rashid Johnson will create a large-scale work that responds to the light-filled expanse of the ICA’s top-floor exhibition space, the True Farr Luck Gallery. Johnson is known for conceptual multimedia work that re-envisions African-American intellectual and cultural history. His site-specific installation will center on a pyramid-like tower. Continuing motifs from recent projects, Johnson will fill a custom-built steel structure with a selection of plants, artifacts, shea-butter sculptures, books, textiles and video. The work will encourage exploration and contemplation — visitors will be able to walk through the piece, immersing themselves in details or lingering within seating areas designed as part of the work. Zones within the sculpture will feature a regular series of intimate, live performances in which musicians, poets and others will respond to Johnson’s work.

The “Provocations” series takes its name from Steven Holl’s design intention for the ICA’s top-floor gallery space, which he calls “a provocation for artists to engage.” The Luck Gallery features a sculptural ceiling, cathedral-like acoustics and ample natural light that filters through opaque glass. Curated by Smith, “Provocations: Rashid Johnson” will be on view through July 7, 2019.

“Hedges, Edges, Dirt” presents new and recent work by Abbas Akhavan, Jonathas de Andrade, David Hartt, Julianne Swartz and Pascale Marthine Tayou. Each artist will show a single project or body of work that explores how we relate to our surroundings, and to each other, when rooted in place or in transition. Through a range of aesthetic approaches and global perspectives, these artists pose pointed questions, including: What does it mean to perceive ourselves and others as native or non-native, as welcome guests or invasive species? How do we navigate tangible and intangible boundaries? How do expressions of power, dominance and vulnerability permeate our experience of place, self and others?

This international group of artists deploy play, beauty and poetry to complicate and reimagine relationships among nature and culture, bodies and spaces.

Featured works will include:

  • Conceptual multimedia installations by Abbas Akhavan, who was born in Iran and lives in Toronto, Canada.
  • An emotive video titled “O peixe” and related photographs by Jonathas de Andrade, a Brazilian who divides his time between Brazil and New York.
  • David Hartt’s video “The Last Poet” and related works including sculpture, photographs and a new, ICA-commissioned tapestry. Hartt, who was born in Canada, lives in Philadelphia.
  • Julianne Swartz’s sonic installation “Sine Body.” Swartz, who was born in Arizona, lives in New York.
  • Sculpture by Pascale Marthine Tayou — a Cameroon native who now lives in Brussels, Belgium — including a new site-specific work from his series “Plastic Tree.”
A video and photo series “O peixe” by Jonathas de Andrade.
A video and photo series “O peixe” by Jonathas de Andrade.

“The projects in ‘Hedges, Edges, Dirt’ use beauty and artifice to critically engage with spatial and ideological boundaries between culture and nature,” said Amber Esseiva, assistant curator. “At the ICA, sharing a variety of aesthetic approaches allows us to reimagine the ways in which we engage with our immediate surroundings as well as faraway places.”

“Hedges, Edges, Dirt” will be installed in the first-floor Royall Forum, Beverly W. Reynolds Gallery and second-floor galleries. Co-curated by Esseiva and Smith, the exhibition will be on view through Jan. 6.

The ICA will host exhibition-related programs throughout the fall, including film screenings as part of the new ICA Cinema Series, artist-led performances, interdisciplinary discussions and research opportunities for students, faculty members and the community at large.