Founded in 1936 as the Boston Museum of Modern Art—a sister institution to New York’s MoMA—the museum was conceived as a laboratory where innovative approaches to art could be championed. The museum established a reputation for identifying important new artists, and in pursuit of this mission, eventually parted ways with MoMA and changed its name to the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1948. As the ICA’s reputation grew around the nation, it paved the way for other institutes and museums of “contemporary art” as well as artists’ spaces and alternative venues.

For more than 75 years, the ICA has presented contemporary art in all media—visual arts, performance, film, video, and literature—and created educational programs that encourage appreciation for contemporary culture. At the close of the 1990s, several innovative programs strengthened the ICA’s public role, including the teen filmmaking program Fast Forward, and ICA/Vita Brevis, whose temporary installations throughout public spaces in Boston drew critical and popular acclaim. In 2006, the ICA opened its visionary new building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, on the Boston waterfront. In its new facility, the ICA has expanded the scope and size of its exhibitions and programs—increasing its audiences tenfold and serving as a catalyst for contemporary art in Boston.
 
Throughout its history the ICA 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 has been introduced to U.S. audiences by the ICA are Georges Braque, 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. More recently, the ICA was pivotal in the careers of numerous visual and performing artists including Bill Viola, Kara Walker, Cildo Meireles, Cindy Sherman, Cornelia Parker, Shepard Fairey, Young Jean Lee, Jay Scheib, Trajal Harrell, and Rashaun Mitchell.

Read more about the ICA’s history.

Timeline

1936

1936/Location

Offices are rented at 114 State Street, and gallery space is provided by the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger Museums at Harvard University in Cambridge. 

1936

The ICA incorporates as the Boston Museum of Modern Art, a “renegade offspring of the Museum of Modern Art” in New York (MoMA). Among the oldest museums in the United States dedicated solely to contemporary art, the ICA is led in its earliest years by young architect Nathaniel Saltonstall—then a spry 26 years old—as well as senior trustees W.G. Russell Allen and Thomas N. Metcalf.

Gauguin catalogue cover, 1936
1937

1937/Location

The ICA relocates to 14 Newbury Street in Boston. Museum admission is 25 cents

1938

1938/Location

The ICA relocates to the Boston Art Club at 270 Dartmouth Street

1938

Leading the way in presenting both visual and performance art, the ICA sponsors the debut performance of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which includes works produced in collaboration with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse

Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, 1938
1939

1939

James S. Plaut becomes the institution’s first director, defining its identity as an “experimental laboratory” for contemporary art. 

James Plaut, 1939

1939

The Walker Art Center is founded. 

1940

1940/Location

The ICA relocates to 210 Beacon Street

1940/Exhibitions

As part of Picasso: Forty Years of His Art—organized by MoMA’s Alfred Barr—the ICA presents the Boston premiere of Picasso’s 1937 antiwar masterpiece Guernica, conceived in response to the Spanish Civil War, all the more timely as World War II sweeps the globe. 

1941

1941

The San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art is founded. 

1941/Exhibitions

Modern Mexican Painters presents the work of Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, among others. 

1942

1942/Director

Founding trustees Thomas Metcalf and W.G. Russell Allen step in as acting co-directors while James Plaut leaves Boston to serve in the war. Plaut’s wartime activities (1942–46) include directing the Art Looting Investigation Unit, tasked with sorting and returning works of art pillaged by the Nazis. 

1943

1943/Exhibitions

The first survey in New England of African American artists focuses on the Harlem Renaissance and its legacy, with paintings and sculptures by Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, among others. 

Jacob Lawrence, Harlem

1943/Location

The ICA relocates to 138 Newbury Street

1948

1948

The Contemporary Art Museum, Houston is founded. 

1948/New Identity

Setting off heated debate in the art world, the museum changes its name from the Boston Museum of Modern Art to the Institute of Contemporary Art, distancing itself from the partisan inflections the term “modern” had accrued. 

ICA Statement, 1948
1950

1950/News

The ICA makes national news with a statement co-signed with the Whitney and MoMA that affirms the dedication of all three museums to the exploration of new frontiers in artistic practice

1950/Exhibitions

Six Women Painters from New England presents works by Maud Morgan and I. Rice Pereira, among others, and contests the long-standing under-representation of women in the arts. 

Early in the American reception of Edvard Munch, the ICA presents a major career survey that includes the expressionist’s now-iconic work The Scream (1893–1910). 

Irene Rice Pereira at easel, 1950
1951

1951/Exhibitions

A survey of British art since the turn of the century features the work of eminent painter Francis Bacon and the young Lucian Freud, soon to become one of the most distinguished painters of the twentieth century. 

1952

1952/Exhibitions

A comprehensive traveling exhibition of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius surveys his formative role in the emergence of modernist architecture and design.

Installation view of Walter Gropius: Approach to Design

1952

In one of the earliest U.S. retrospectives dedicated to Wassily Kandinsky, the ICA explores the artist’s foundational role in the development of abstraction, including 52 major paintings, among them 28 never before exhibited in this country. 

Wassily Kandinsky Catalogue Cover, 1952
1955

1955/Exhibitions

ICA director James Plaut co-juries the 24th Corcoran Biennial, which travels from Washington, D.C., to Boston, introducing audiences to recent paintings by Adolph Gottlieb and Willem de Kooning, among others. 

1956

1956/Exhibitions

The ICA hosts The Gulf-Caribbean International, organized by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, emphasizing the importance of cultural and geographic diversity in contemporary art. 

Gulf-Caribbean International Exhibition, 1956

1956/Location

The ICA moves to new quarters at 230 The Fenway

1956/Director

Thomas Messer is appointed director, serving in that position until 1962. 

1957

1957/Exhibitions

The ICA celebrates twenty years at the forefront of contemporary art in Boston with highlights from previous exhibitions. 

Selection 1957 inaugurates an annual exhibition program surveying New England artists, organized most years through 1964. 

1958

1958/Exhibitions

Eminent art historian William Rubin organizes the first U.S. museum survey dedicated to Spanish painter Roberto Matta (sponsored by MoMA in collaboration with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the ICA). 

Installation view of Matta
1959

1959/Exhibitions

Young Talent in New England takes art outside the museum: installed on the walls of a Stop & Shop store on Memorial Drive, the exhibition displays the work of regional artists and anticipates the growing interest in American consumer culture among pop artists such as Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol

Stop and Shop Exhibition, 1959
1960

1960/Location

Newly designed by architect and ICA founder Nathaniel Saltonstall, the Metropolitan Boston Arts Center, at 1175 Soldiers Field Road, becomes the museum’s home for two years. 

Metropolitan Boston Arts Center at Soldiers Field, 1960

1960

The ICA organizes an unprecedented U.S. museum exhibition dedicated to the career of Viennese expressionist Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele exhibition, 1960
1963

1963/Location

The ICA relocates to 100 Newbury Street

ICA Location 100 Newbury St, 1963

1963

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia is founded. 

1964

1964/Exhibitions

The 32nd Venice Biennale signals the sensational arrival of American Pop art on the international scene. A concurrent exhibition at the ICA, American Art Since 1950, celebrates the artists representing the U.S. in Venice: John Chamberlain, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Morris Louis, Kenneth Nland, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella.

Claes Oldenburg during American Art Since 1950 exhibition
1965

1965

London: The New Scene, organized by the Walker Art Center, is one of the earliest exhibitions to introduce U.S. audiences to the work of Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley, 1965

1965/Exhibitions

At an early moment in the history of electronic media and video art, Art Turned On brings together some of its leading pioneers, including Dan Flavin, Robert Whitman, and Fluxus artists Ay-O and Joe Jones. Marcel Duchamp attends the exhibition and takes a special interest in Jones’s Music Plant

Received ideas about mark-making, gesture, and authorship come under scrutiny in Painting Without a Brush, presenting works by Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Jackson Pollock, Jean Tinguely, and Andy Warhol, among others. 

Art Turned On and Duchamp, 1965
1966

1966

The ICA organizes the second museum exhibition dedicated to Andy Warhol, with nearly 40 iconic works—soon to become touchstones of 20th-century art history—as well as staging a performance of the landmark intermedia work Exploding Plastic Inevitable by Warhol and the Velvet Underground

Andy Warhol, 1966
1967

1967

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago is founded. 

1968

1968/Location

The ICA returns to 1175 Soldiers Field Road

1968/Director

Andrew Hyde is appointed director and serves in that position until 1974, with a one-year interlude (1971–72) during which artist Christopher Cook leads the organization, with a focus on conceptual art. 

1970

1970/Location

Parkman House at 33 Beacon Street becomes the ICA’s new temporary home. 

1971

1971

With the exhibition Monumental Sculpture for Public Spaces, the ICA brings art into the public arena. Outdoor sculptural interventions by Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Louise Nevelson, Claes Oldenburg, Mark di Suvero, and others spring up around the city. At City Hall Plaza, Robert Indiana erects a 12-foot-high steel version of his iconic work LOVE

Robert Indiana, LOVE, 1975
1972

1972/Location

The ICA moves to 137 Newbury Street

1973

1973/Location

A transformed police headquarters at 955 Boylston Street becomes the ICA’s new home for the next 33 years. 

ICA Boylston location, 1973
1974

1974/Exhibitions

An exhibition observing the rise of postminimalism features work by Ree Morton and Hannah Wilke, among others. 

A two-person exhibition pairs paintings by Joan Snyder and Pat Steir

 

1974/Director

Cambridge sculptor Sydney Rockefeller serves as acting director until the appointment in 1975 of Gabriella Jepson, who serves as director until 1978. 

1975

1975/Exhibitions

Photographs, maps, and drawings document Christo and Jean-Claude’s Ocean Front (1974), their most recent public intervention. The ICA returns to the couple’s oeuvre in 1979, organizing a major survey of their urban projects. 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Ocean Front, Newport, Rhode Island, 1974
1976

1976/Exhibitions

Organized by the ICA and the Walker Art Center, Six Themes offers one of the first major retrospectives of the work of Claes Oldenburg, who attends the exhibition and delivers a public lecture. 

1976/News

The ICA launches the Open City Youth Program

VALUE 'Open City' Youth Program, 1976
1977

1977

The New Museum is founded. 

1978

1978/Exhibitions

Modern Works is the first survey to examine Roy Lichtenstein’s shift in 1965 from comics and caroons to canonical works of modernist art as sources for his imagery.

Catalogue for Roy Lichtenstein: The Modern Work

1978/Director

Stephen Prokopoff joins the ICA as director, serving in that position until 1982. 

1978/Performance

Paul Taylor Dance Company performs at the ICA with set and costumes by Boston-based artist Alex Katz.

Paul Taylor Dance Company
1979

1979

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (LA MOCA) is founded. 

1980

1980

The ICA mounts Florine Stettheimer: Still Lifes, Portraits and Pageants, 1910–1942, a successor to her retrospective at Museum of Modern Art in 1946. Stettheimer is recognized as one of the most individualistic American painters of the era between the wars. 

1982

1982

The ICA organizes Art and Dance, examining a century of exchange between visual art and dance from 1890 to 1980, featuring works by dozens of artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Yvonne Rainer, and Merce Cunningham

Art and Dance, 1982

1982/Director

David Ross joins the ICA as director, serving in that position until 1990. 

1984

1984

The Pérez Art Museum Miami is founded. 

1986

1986

In conjunction with the ICA’s 50th anniversary, the museum launches a landmark project including a major print catalogue and three exhibitions around Dissent: The Issue of Modern Art in Boston. This important project analyzes the distinct attitudes and ideas, during the first half of the 20th century, that set Boston modern art apart from the mainstream as defined by New York City. 

Endgame, 1986
1989

1989/Exhibitions

Pioneering performance and conceptual artist Chris Burden receives his first U.S. museum survey, organized by the Newport Harbor Art Museum and shown at the ICA. 

Exhibition announcement for Chris Burden: Twenty Year Survey
1990

1990

Robert Mapplethorpe’s first U.S. museum survey culminates at the ICA after traveling nationally from the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. At two other venues, the exhibition’s homoerotic content becomes embroiled in a highly visible censorship scandal involving the National Endowment for the Arts, U.S. Congress, and conservative organizations, serving as a cause célèbre for both sides of the Culture Wars. The ICA’s determination to proceed with the exhibition in the midst of this heated debate testifies to its commitment to artists over politics, and to speaking out against censorship. 

Mapplethorpe invite card, 1990

1990

The Hammer Museum is founded. 

1990/Director

Milena Kalinovska joins the ICA as director, serving in that position until 1998. 

1993

1993

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is founded. 

1993/Exhibitions

WIth works by such artists as David Hammons and Glenn Ligon, Malcolm X: Man, Ideal, Icon explores the cultural and political legacy of one of the most galvanizing African-American leaders in U.S. history.

From Malcolm X: Man, Ideal, Icon
1995

1995/Film

The ICA introduces Boston audiences to the productions of filmmaker Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen, Five Easy Pieces

1995/Exhibitions

Prominent British artist Rachel Whiteread, recipient of the 1993 Turner Prize, receives her second U.S. museum survey.

The Boston School is the first museum exhibition to identify common threads in the work of Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nan Goldin, Jack Pierson, Shellburne Thurber, and other photographers living and working in Boston in the late 1970s and the ’80s. 

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Paul McCarthy, and David Wojnarowicz participate in CURRENTS

Rachel Whiteread, 1995
1996

1996/Exhibitions

Curated by Catherine de Zegher, Inside the Visible acknowledges under-recognized contributions by women artists in the 20th century, with works by Louise Bourgeois, Lygia Clark, Eva Hesse, Nancy Spero, and Carrie Mae Weems

New Histories spotlights contemporary artists of African and African American descent whose work addresses the history and daily realities of racism, such as Isaac Julien, Kara Walker, and Fred Wilson

Inside the Visible catalogue cover, 1996
1997

1997/Exhibitions

One of Brazil’s most influential contemporary artists, conceptualist Cildo Meireles, receives the first major U.S. museum exhibition of his career. 

Enterprise reflects the emergence of Relational Aesthetics (the term first coined in 1996), featuring work by Rikrit Tiravanija, and, in their first U.S. museum show, Vanessa Beecroft and Liam Gillick

Cildo Meireles, 1997
1998

1998/Director

As the 11th director of the ICA, Jill Medvedow brings a bold vision for artistic and civic leadership to the museum, shepherding important exhibitions, programs for teens, and a new home on Boston’s waterfront. 

1998/Public Art

Jill Medvedow launches Vita Brevis at the museum, an ongoing series that commissions local, national, and international artists to create temporary works of art in public settings. Krzysztof Wodiczko and Jim Hodges are among the first artists to receive commissions. 

Bunker Hill Monument Projection, 1998
1999

1999/Exhibitions

Jim Hodges explores the devastation wrought by the AIDS crisis in one of the first solo museum exhibitions of his career, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. 

African American artist Kerrry James Marshall receives his first major U.S. museum exhibition. 

Kerry James Marshall, Mementos

1999/News

The ICA wins a citywide bid to develop a new building for the museum on Boston’s Fan Pier

1999

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) opens its doors in North Adams, Massachusetts. 

2000

2000/Exhibitions

Cornelia Parker receives her first museum solo exhibition in the U.S. 

Cornelia Parker, Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), 1999
2001

2001/Exhibitions

Olafur Eliasson receives his first U.S. museum solo exhibition. A companion ICA/Vita Brevis project by Eliasson introduces a temporary floating park moored to Boston’s Fan Pier, adjacent to the ICA’s future home at 100 Northern Avenue. 

Rineke Dijkstra receives her first U.S. survey. 

Olafur Eliasson, 2001

2001/News

After a competitive selection process, New York architecture firm Diller Scofidio is commissioned to design the new ICA. 

2006

2006/Location

The ICA opens its new world-class, 62,000-square-foot building designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro on Boston’s waterfront, and establishes a permanent collection of 20th- and 21st-century art with works by Paul Chan, Marlene Dumas, Mona Hatoum, Christian Jankowski, and Cornelia Parker

Exterior of ICA at night
2007

2007/Performance

The ICA presents the world premiere of Looky by the Mark Morris Dance Group.

Mark Morris Dance Group performs Looky, 2007.
2008

2008

The ICA organizes Anish Kapoor’s first U.S. museum survey in more than 15 years, and presents the first museum survey of Tara Donovan’s work

Anish Kapoor, S-Curve, 2008
2010

2010

Jenny Holzer presents a new text projection on the exterior of the ICA as part of her collaboration with Bessie Award–winning choreographer Miguel Gutierrez

Jenny Holzer, 2010
2011

2011

In its 75th-anniversary year, the ICA welcomes its 1 millionth visitor to the new waterfront location and presents Dance/Draw, an ambitious thematic exhibition that investigates the connections between visual art and dance over the past 50 years. In the same year, the ICA commissions and hosts the world premiere of Body Against Body by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

2011/Performance

ICA commissions and hosts the world premiere of Body Against Body by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

2012

2012

First Lady Michelle Obama presents the ICA with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the highest honor awarded to youth programs in the United States. 

Michelle Obama with teen Romario
2013

2013

This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, featuring artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the Guerrilla Girls, Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Prince, Gerhard Richter, Doris Salcedo, Cindy Sherman, and Tseng Kwong Chi with Keith Haring, receives wide critical acclaim, attracting record crowds.