Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU unveils fall 2018 exhibitions including projects by Rashid Johnson, Abbas Akhavan, David Hartt, Jonathas de Andrade, Julianne Swartz and Pascale Marthine Tayou

A video and photo series “O peixe” by Jonathas de Andrade.
A video and photo series “O peixe” by Jonathas de Andrade.

For media in Richmond:
Lesley Howson Bruno
Institute for Contemporary Art
Phone: (804) 828-8223

For media outside of Richmond:
Delaney Smith/Juliet Vincente
Resnicow and Associates\
Phone: (212) 671-5160/(212) 671-5154
Email: /


This fall, the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University will present two exhibitions featuring leading international contemporary artists, including a major site-specific commission and artist-led performances. Opening simultaneously on Oct. 17, “Provocations: Rashid Johnson”and“Hedges, Edges, Dirt” both explore socially and culturally specific issues in nuanced, conceptual and poetic ways. Through these initiatives, the ICA will continue to present 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 annual commission series “Provocations,”artist Rashid Johnson will create “Monument,” a new, large-scale work that responds to the soaring, light-filled expanse of the ICA’s top-floor exhibition space, the True Farr Luck Gallery. Known for conceptual multimedia work, Johnson’s site-specific installation for the ICA will center on a pyramid-like tower that will be activated by a weekly performance series in which musicians, poets and others based in Richmond will respond to “Monument” over the course of its eight-month run.

Continuing motifs from recent projects, Johnson will fill a custom-built steel structure with a selection of plants, shea-butter sculptures, books, textiles and video. “Monument” is his first project designed to spark collaboration with other artists and performers. He hopes that his work will be understood in relation to his multifaceted identity — artist, intellectual, son, father, black, male, cosmopolitan, seeker, maker and collaborator. 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 True Farr Luck Gallery features a sculptural ceiling, cathedral-like acoustics and ample natural light that filters through opaque glass. “Provocations: Rashid Johnson,” curated by Smith, will be on view through July 14.

The exhibition “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 deploys play, beauty and poetry to complicate and reimagine relationships among nature and culture, bodies and spaces.

"Provocations" by artist Rashid Johnson.
"Provocations" by artist Rashid Johnson.

Featured works include:

  • A living hedge of cedar trees that seems to block access to one of the ICA’s galleries. This work, “Untitled Garden,” and “Study for a Curtain, an installation comprisingf plants non-native to Richmond, are newly updated versions of conceptual installations by Abbas Akhavan, who was born in Iran and now lives in Toronto, Canada. Both reflect Akhavan's interest in how gardens can be used defensively, as ways to define and control territory, and influence how we move through spaces.

  • Jonathas de Andrade, who was born in Maceió, Brazil, and now divides his time between Brazil and New York, uses the emotive video titled “O peixe (The Fish)” and related photographs to explore power, vulnerability, empathy and otherness through depictions of a fictitious fishing ritual.
  • David Hartt, who was born in Canada and now lives in Philadelphia, presents his video “The Last Poet” and related works including sculpture, photographs and a new ICA-commissioned tapestry. Through these objects and images, Hartt assesses the detritus of our late capitalist moment, honing in on the frayed edges of urban spaces and social fabrics.
  • Julianne Swartz, who was born in Arizona and now lives in New York, uses electronics in her installation “Sine Body” to activate small, organically shaped sculptures of porcelain and glass to create a shifting sonic landscape of pure sine tones that blur the edges between body and space. The installation will be activated by a live performance on Wednesday, Oct. 17, in tandem with the exhibition's public opening.
  • Pascale Marthine Tayou, who was born in Cameroon and now lives in Brussels, Belgium, presents two large installations from his ongoing series “Plastic Trees” and “Colored Stones”that address globalization and environmental degradation.
  • In addition, a presentation in the ICA’s Murry de Pillars Learning Lab introduces VCU’s 2018 Common Book selection, “Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions.” The author, Valeria Luiselli, is a volunteer interpreter in the federal immigration court in New York tasked with asking migrant children a series of 40 questions. The book challenges readers to understand the complexities of contemporary immigration issues, as well as the shifting landscape of the “American dream.” The Common Book program brings VCU together as a scholarly learning community focused on understanding contemporary issues that need our collective attention and that do not have a single or simple solution. The ICA and VCU are partnering to connect this universitywide initiative to the themes of borders, boundaries, power and vulnerability within “Hedges, Edges, Dirt.”


“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 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 public programs throughout the fall. They will include film screenings, a performance by Julianne Swartz and artist talks by de Andrade and Hartt followed by a discussion with Ravi Perry, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of VCU’s Department of Political Science, in addition to other opportunities for students, faculty members and the community to connect with the exhibition and its themes. See for additional programming details this fall.

About the Institute for Contemporary Art

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University is a noncollecting institution that showcases a fresh slate of changing exhibitions and programs. The ICA is a place to explore new ideas, providing an open forum for dialogue and collaboration across the region and the world. Mirroring the increasing emphasis on cross-disciplinary studies across VCU, the ICA has created a new environment for artists and scholars from around the world to test ideas. As a university-wide resource, the ICA links campus, community, and contemporary artists by supporting local creative communities, engaging an international network of contemporary artists and organizations, and encouraging collaborations with VCU departments, faculty, students and the Richmond community. The ICA is a responsive institution that offers a broad range of artistic perspectives with the goal of questioning assumptions and encouraging critical discourse. For more information on the ICA, please visit

About VCU and the VCU School of the Arts

VCU is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. One of the nation's leading schools of arts and design, VCU School of the Arts offers 15 undergraduate and 10 graduate degree programs in fine arts, design, performing arts, historical research and pedagogical practice. Distinguished faculty members are internationally recognized in their respective fields, contribute significantly to the stature of VCU, and are committed to mentoring the next generation of artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, scholars and engaged citizens of diverse communities around the world. Its campus in Qatar provides students and faculty with a direct tie to the Middle East and underscores the school and university's commitment to global education and experience.