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1st Light, 2005, Paul Chen | © 2016 Paul Chan
1st Light, 2005, Paul Chen | © 2016 Paul Chan

ICA's First Light Showcases A Defining Decade Of Artwork

Picture of Casey Campbell
Updated: 8 September 2016
To commemorate ten years at their location in the Seaport District, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art has curated a fascinating new exhibit, featuring work drawn entirely from the ICA’s own collection over the last decade. Titled First Light: A Decade of Collecting at the ICA, it brings together both new acquisitions and favorites from the beginning.

While a ten-year landmark may not seem as historic as those of other art institutions in Boston, for the ICA, permanence is something to celebrate. The ICA was founded in 1936 as a sister museum to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art – in other words, a Boston MoMA. Since then, it has parted ways from this relationship, changed its name, and relocated several times. It makes sense, then, that a decade in one location should be recognized. Today, the museum is one of the main attractions of the Seaport District. While there has been plenty of change in structure, the ICA’s mission has always been to feature, identify, and support the most important artists of the present-day, a goal that First Light expertly fulfills.

© 2016 Nick Cave|©2016 Mickalene Thomas|© 2016 Ragnar Kjartansson

© 2016 Nick Cave| © 2016 Mickalene Thomas | © 2016 Ragnar Kjartansson

The ICA is calling First Light its most ‘ambitious presentation of its collection to date.’ After viewing some of the pieces, you can see why. It features more than 100 works by artists ranging from Andy Warhol to Paul Chan to Eva Hesse – and many others. The collection was designed as both stand-alone and interrelated exhibitions. Running until January 16, 2017, First Light is broken into six different chapters throughout, with some only on display for a portion of the exhibit.

This collection based its name on artist Paul Chan’s 1st Light, a projected digital animation he completed in 2005. 1st Light addresses the themes of religion, politics, and art, specifically in a post-9/11 world. It’s the first of a seven-part animation cycle that displays an apocalyptic view of the world through projected silhouettes. 

Most of the other pieces also address issues of politics, injustice, and race in the world today and the last decade. Kara Walker profoundly displays the injustices of racism and slavery with her 57-foot cut paper and painted piece The Nigger Huck Finn Pursues Happiness Beyond the Narrow Constraints of Your Overdetermined Thesis on Freedom – Drawn and Quartered by Mister Kara Walkerberry, with Condolences to The Authors. This piece was originally displayed in San Francisco in 2010 as part of an exhibit that reconsidered Mark Twain’s examination of racial tensions in America within his writing.

The Nigger Huck Finn Pursues Happiness Beyond the Narrow Constraints of your Overdetermined Thesis on Freedom – Drawn and Quartered by Mister Kara Walkerberry, with Condolences to The Authors, 2010 | © 2016 Kara Walker

The overall chapters of First Light are equally impressive. For instance, ‘Soft Power‘ displays works of soft materials, made exclusively of rope, string, cord, and hemp, with each piece examining a variety of social and cultural themes. Throughout all the chapters, multimedia art is featured, and an entire section of video works is available for viewing. 1st Light is included in this category, but other artists who are featured should not be missed. Through interviews, Sharon Hayes explores how speech transects with topics like politics and identity, and Ragnar Kjartansson investigates the iconic American blue music genre through both video and song.

All of First Light’s pieces offer a unique point of view of a contemporary public issue displayed in a variety of mediums. It will be on exhibit until January 16, 2017, and tickets are just $15 for adults (or visit Thursday evenings for free admission). The ICA has also made an online catalog available with all the chapters and their works.