First Fridays

The ICA will close at 5 PM tonight for First Fridays: Après Ski. This 21+ event is sold out. 

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In a career spanning over twenty years, Arlene Shechet embraces chance when making sculpture dictated by materials that change from one state to another before solidifying as a finished object. So and So and So and So and On and On is one of Shechet’s most significant works, marking a new direction within her practice. A ceramic sculptural diptych, the work is composed of two round, glazed forms displayed on top of irregular stacks of kiln bricks. The large, fleshy pink heads—whose color references, among other things, the paintings of one of Shechet’s heroes, Philip Guston—function as three-dimensional vessels for the gestural application of color. They are glazed so that the roseate colors layer in zigzagging paths across textured surfaces, with eyelike blue dots interspersed. The glazed and stacked kiln bricks, some white, some outlined thickly in black, are readymade pedestals for the bust-like, handmade ceramic forms. As integral features of Shechet’s sculptures, pedestals dynamically contrast with the elements they support. Here, the columns of kiln bricks reference the process by which the larger forms came into being, gesturing at the presence of the kiln itself as the arbiter of material transformation. Such interplay of forms demonstrates the artist’s dedication to challenging sculptural conventions, grounded, as she says, by “an experience of sculpture as a language for transmitting information, feelings, beliefs, and thoughts.” 

Whether in painting, sculpture, fabric, text, or performance, Jeffrey Gibson’s mixed-media work draws on a wide swath of visual languages, from popular fashion and queer culture, to American modernism inflected through Cherokee and Choctaw aesthetic traditions. Trained as a painter, Gibson describes his approach to the act of painting as akin to beadwork and weaving: “In my head, I [am] applying paint as if I were creating a woven fabric or adorning a textile.” Early in his practice, Gibson expanded on this technique further by incorporating different materials and objects, such as beads, glass, blankets, and metal jingles into works that mixed different aesthetic traditions. Gibson is interested in this hybridity as a way to counter dominant narratives of Native life and community in the Americas, particularly the prevalent misconception that Indigenous art traditions are fixed in the past, rather than within a continuum of adaptation and innovation. “It’s not just that we’ve survived,” Gibson reflects, “there are moments in which we have thrived, we’ve found happiness, we’ve found joy, we’ve found celebration. We’ve always carved out space for ourselves.” The flag, a form of political iconography and a recurring motif in the artist’s practice, is one lens through which Gibson investigates these claims to place, land, and sovereignty to visually critique narratives of settler colonialism. Layering vibrant geometric blocks of color painted on one side of a found wool army blanket, Flag reflects Gibson’s signature visual language and proposal of creative futures for the artistic act through mixed art traditions and their associations. 

Berlin-based artist Haegue Yang makes intricate and visually compelling sculptures from quotidian and domestic found materials, such as clothing racks, light bulbs, and graph paper. Nosy Clown – Fungus Powered comes from a larger series of light sculptures entitled Nosy Clown. These works feature common materials accumulated on wheeled clothing racks. Juxtaposing organic and synthetic elements, the handmade and the mass produced, Nosy Clown – Fungus Powered incorporates the artist’s hand-knit pom-poms and chaotically strewn pieces of yarn, alongside a red aluminum venetian blind and interwoven rope and cloth-covered cord, all topped with a vibrantly colored feather duster. Like others from the series, the sculpture is anthropomorphic and clown-like in appearance, especially with the feather duster resembling a clown nose. As in other of Yang’s works on casters, it is both a discrete object and one imbued with potential energy that might be activated if, and when, it is set in motion. Through its use of the artist’s signature materials (such as venetian blinds and casters) and with the presence of the artist’s hand, Nosy Clown – Fungus Powered exemplifies Yang’s unique visual vocabulary, her playful sense of humor, and her acuity in combining disparate materials to transformative ends. 

Louise Bourgeois was one of the most influential artists of the last century. In her distinctive mix of abstraction and figuration, she delved into childhood memories and the struggles of everyday life. Using a variety of materials—wood, bronze, marble, steel, rubber, and fabric—she crafted evocative and personally cathartic objects that reference the body, sexuality, family, trauma, and anxiety.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Bourgeois repurposed found fabric as the material for a number of sculptures. In part, this stemmed from necessity—sewing was a technique she could still manage as an elderly artist. Stitching with bits of her old clothing, sheets, or towels, Bourgeois created small figures that convey strong emotions. Arched Figure No.1 is made from pantyhose-like fabric stretched over chicken wire. This crudely stitched female form could be in a state of sexual ecstasy or perhaps, conversely, excruciating pain. Bourgeois describes this arched form, which appears in many of her works, as “the arch of hysteria, pleasure, and pain … merged in a state of happiness.” Placed in a vitrine of the artist’s design, Arched Figure No. 1 calls to mind anthropological or historical museum display. Like a contemporary version of an ancient fertility figure, the object is preserved and protected for future contemplation.

Arched Figure No. 1 demonstrates the artist’s characteristic interest in subjects such as the body, sexuality, and androgyny. The piece was featured in the ICA/Boston’s 2007 exhibition Bourgeois in Boston.


During her seventy-year career, Louise Bourgeois became an artist of wide influence and art-historical importance. Her charged work, a distinctive mix of abstraction and figuration, delves into childhood memories and the emotional struggles of everyday life. Working in wood, bronze, marble, steel, rubber, and fabric, she created powerful objects that reference the body, sexuality, trauma, and anxiety.

Among the motifs that appear most regularly in her work are breasts and penises. This imagery is often discussed from an autobiographical standpoint, as standing in for Bourgeois’s mother and father, with whom she had complicated relationships. Her use of the motifs can also be related to human sexuality more generally. Additionally, her objects have been compared to ancient religious icons. In Germinal, a small and domed sculpture in white marble, Bourgeois collapses the imagery of the breast and the penis. According to Bourgeois, as quoted in Thomas McEvilley’s Sculpture in the Age of Doubt, “Sometimes I am totally concerned with female shapes—clusters of breasts like clouds—but I often merge the imagery—phallic breasts, male and female, active and passive.” The “phallic breast” has an early precedent in sculptures and depictions of the goddess Rati in Bali, whose long breasts jut forward as though erect. Germinal stands as an archetypal example of Bourgeois’s manipulations and combinations of male and female sexual markers.

As part of a group of works by Bourgeois owned by the ICA, Germinal augments the museum’s collection of sculpture by significant female artists.


For over seventy years, Louise Bourgeois created poignant, cathartic work that explores sexuality, the human form, and traumatic events from her childhood. She is well known for her powerful sculptural work in a variety of media, including marble, bronze, plaster, and fabric.

Janus Fleuri is an evocatively corporeal object made of sleekly polished bronze. Following a period in the late 1950s when Bourgeois withdrew from the art world, she began experimenting with organic and biomorphic forms. She made six versions of Janus in 1968—five in bronze and one in porcelain (which the ICA/Boston also owns)—and recast the motif in 1992. Each piece in this series is delicately suspended by a single wire and is free to spin on its axis. Other hanging sculptures by Bourgeois from this era include the phallic Fillette, 1968, with which Bourgeois posed for a famous photographic portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe of 1982.

The title references the Roman god Janus, who was the god of gates, doorways, and beginnings and endings (indeed, the opening month of the year is named after him) and who is often portrayed as having two heads facing in opposite directions. A duality of meaning can often be found in Bourgeois’s work, with forms appearing at once male and female, abstract and representational, menacing and nurturing. In Janus Fleuri, we see mirrored forms drooping in opposite directions from a central point. Bourgeois blended male and female anatomy in many works throughout her career, including the phallic yet breastlike Germinal, 1967–92, also in the ICA collection.

The ICA has two versions of Janus Fleuri, one in porcelain and one in bronze. This sculpture, from one of her most significant series, plays an important role in the ICA’s holdings of the artist’s work.


Tara Donovan transforms everyday materials into formally elegant sculptures, installations, and works on paper. She has made works from massive accumulations of pins, straws, toothpicks, tarpaper, tape, buttons, paper plates, and pencils. The means by which Donovan manipulates these objects are often simple—ripping, stacking, twisting, piling, cutting, grouping—yet the results are spectacular. The artist begins by testing and experimenting with a given material, seeking to remain true to its inherent properties while pushing its capacities. As Donovan has said, “Every new material comes with a specific repetitive action that builds the work.” Colored buttons form rippling towers that recall sea coral, or three million cups are stacked to form an undulating topographic map. When viewers discover what Donovan’s works are made of, they are surprised and delighted by how something so familiar and ordinary can become so unexpected and new.

Untitled (Pins), made of many thousands of straight pins, is a perfect cube reminiscent of the work of minimalists like Donald Judd. Rather than following the minimalist strategy of industrial fabrication, however, Donovan herself poured and pressed the pins into a four-sided square mold. When she removed the sides, the pins created a cube shape bound together by nothing more than surface tension: rather than holding fabric in place, the pins hold only themselves. As in much of her work, light plays off the cube, making it glitter enticingly. For all its prickliness, it begs to be touched. Yet, unlike Carl Andre’s relatively indestructible floor pieces or Judd’s cubes, Untitled (Pins) is fragile, on the brink of falling apart at the slightest touch. Far from tragic, it betrays a sense of humor and humility.

When the ICA/Boston organized survey of Donovan’s work in 2008, this work particularly aroused the affection of viewers. Untitled (Pins) complements the ICA’s Cornelia Parker pieces, as both artists reanimate the overlooked and mundane to create works of striking beauty.


Working in sculpture, drawing, photography, and site-specific installation, Roni Horn explores the very nature of art, especially as it relates to site, environment, and identity. In an interview on Art21, Horn describes the importance of words to her process: “I move through language to arrive at the visual.” From this conceptual basis, she crafts objects and arrangements that often implicate the viewer, either through spatial structures or direct address. Frequently aligned with the aesthetics of minimalism, Horn uses repetition and doubling to invite viewers to look closely and to discover the subtle differences that constitute the world. Through her artistic practice, she seeks to activate the space between the perceptible and imperceptible. Since the 1980s, she has frequently visited Iceland, finding inspiration in its remarkable landscape and relative isolation.

Key and Cue, No. 288 forms part of a body of text-based sculpture that Horn began in the 1990s. In this work, an aluminum bar propped against the wall draws attention to the supports of both floor and wall. Having more than one face, the sculpture refuses to be seen or known all at once. From one vantage point, an abstract pattern of black lines resembles a barcode. From another, these embedded plastic bands cohere into a line of text, an extract from poem 288 by Emily Dickinson, whose writing has had a strong influence on Horn. As the viewer shifts from seeing to reading, the line of text, a statement and question—“I’m Nobody! Who Are You?”—moves the viewer beyond the physical object into a space of introspection.

Key and Cue, No. 288 adds to the ICA/Boston sculpture collection, especially works that engage with seriality, such as examples by Tara Donovan, Sheila Hicks, Charles LeDray, Josiah McElheny, and Andrew Witkin.


Since the mid-1980s, Doris Salcedo has addressed the effects of criminal and political violence through sculptural works and installations that bear witness to death, loss, and pain. Collecting testimonies from individuals living in rural Colombia, she both honors the memory of lives lost and contemplates the frequently invisible nature of trauma.

In many of her works, Salcedo employs an uncomfortable combination of domestic furniture and building materials such as concrete and steel. Instead of engaging the traditional methods of sculpture, such as carving or molding, she makes her work through acts of physical and symbolic violence: filing, scratching, bending, beating, fusing, melting, and burying. In Untitled, an armoire’s interior has been filled with cement. The gray cement surface appears perfectly smooth except for the wooden chair that has been turned on its side and embedded in the lower right-hand corner. Salcedo’s careful application of cement elicits both fullness and emptiness. The material weight of the wood and cement suggest fullness, while there is a literal emptiness in what is missing—clothing and personal belongings—and a visual emptiness in the opacity of the gray cement. Variations of light and dark waver across the surface, creating the illusion that the cement is shifting. The small empty space almost hidden behind the back of the chair offers a momentary break in the solidity of the sculpture. With this subtle void, Salcedo furthers the tension and heightens the lingering sense of loss. By distorting the familiar, her work transforms our perception of home from a space of comfort and safety to one of disorienting dislocation.

Untitled forms part of the ICA/Boston’s strong and ever-expanding collection of sculpture, as well as holdings that investigate themes of war and violence. It joins works by Kader Attia, Louise Bourgeois, Willie Doherty, Mona Hatoum, and Yasumasa Morimura that visualize social and political violence.


Since the mid-1980s, Colombian artist Doris Salcedo has addressed the themes of loss and mourning in works that evoke criminal and political violence. Her sculptures and installations are informed by her research and fieldwork in rural communities in Colombia, particularly the testimonies she collects from survivors of political abduction who were presumed dead, as well as the families of those who did not return. Her work both honors the memory of lives lost and contemplates the frequently unspoken results of trauma.

In 1989, Salcedo began to make works in which she buried, covered, brushed, and fused domestic wooden furniture with cement. By distorting the familiar, she transforms our perception of home from a place of comfort and safety to one of disorienting dislocation. In Untitled, a chair has been almost entirely encased in a block of cement, with only its wooden frame and hints of red cushion peeking through. Metal spikes pierce the object, acting as both a form of support and an instrument of violence. When pouring the cement, Salcedo took care to preserve its rough and haphazard surface. Combining the impenetrable materials of cement and metal and the humble delicacy of the chair, Salcedo creates a strong sense of physical tension. Typically, we arrange wooden chairs in relation to a table or desk, but here the sculpture faces the wall, and at an uncomfortably close distance. For Salcedo, the installation of the work is as important as the materials from which it is made. The placement of the chair suggests confinement and punishment, both for the viewer, who cannot neither sit down nor fully view the sculpture, and for an imaginary detainee undergoing interrogation.

This work adds to the ICA/Boston’s strong and ever-expanding collection of sculpture, and of works in all mediums by artists who explore the subjects of war and sociopolitical violence, including Kader Attia, Louise Bourgeois, Willie Doherty, Mona Hatoum, and Yasumasa Morimura.