Founded in 1936 as The Boston Museum of Modern Art, the museum was conceived as a laboratory where innovative approaches to art could be championed. In pursuit of this mission, in its early days, the museum established its reputation for identifying important new artists and changed its name a final time to become the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1948.
For more than a half century, the ICA has presented contemporary art in all media—visual arts, film, and video, performance and literature—and created educational programs that encourage an appreciation for contemporary culture. As the ICA’s reputation grew around the nation, it paved the way for institutes and museums of “contemporary art” as well as artists’ spaces and alternative venues. In particular, the ICA led the field in its pioneering support of video art and new media. At the close of the 1990s, several innovative programs strengthened the ICA’s public role, including the teen filmmaking program Fast Forward, where participants become the producers of their own documentaries, and ICA/Vita Brevis, whose temporary installations throughout public spaces in Boston draw critical and popular acclaim.
Throughout the ICA’s history it has been at the fore in identifying and supporting the most important artists of its time and bringing them to public attention. Among the artists whose work was introduced to U.S. audiences by the ICA are Cubist Georges Braque, Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka and Edvard Munch. Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Laurie Anderson, and Roy Lichtenstein were each the subject of ICA presentations early in their careers. And more recently, The ICA was pivotal in the museum exhibition careers of Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Carol Rama, Vanessa Beecroft, Kara Walker, Cildo Meireles, Ellen Gallagher, Tony Oursler, Cindy Sherman, Bill Viola, Rachel Whiteread, Janine Antoni, and Cornelia Parker.