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For more than forty years, Barbara Kruger has been a consistent and critical observer of contemporary culture. One of Kruger’s most recent time-based media works, Untitled (No Comment) resounds with images and themes that have come to define the artist’s practice. Over nearly ten minutes and across three channels, Kruger integrates a wide range of contemporary footage and sound to explore how the internet and social media amplify and distort age-old questions of power, value, and the ego. Edited together in a fast-paced and enthralling stream of images, texts, and sounds, the video includes polarizing political figures, advertisements, memes, scrolling text, a cat lip-synching to the melodic hook of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s hit song “Shallow,” and numerous other moving images to capture, as the video describes it, “our world in shambles.” While undoubtedly a reflection on our current moment, Kruger also integrates some of her previous works, replaying select phrases (such as “I need you to love me” and “A chilling doubt”) in new contexts and capturing the widespread transmission of her work on social media. Untitled (No Comment) thus functions as both a new artwork and a miniature survey—knitting together the enduring urgency of questions that Kruger has been posing since the 1980s through her singular artistic practice. 

Creation through disintegration, presence through absence, fullness through emptiness—such paradoxes inspire the work of the French-Algerian artist Kader Attia. He succinctly describes his artistic aim: “I am interested in the evocation of something through its contrary.” To give form to the idea, he puts unexpected juxtapositions of contradictory elements to powerful visual and visceral effect.

Attia’s video Oil and Sugar #2 harnesses layered meanings through the marriage of simple and familiar materials, each selected for the distinct sensual/formal and cultural/political significations it embodies. His camera records in real time a close-up view of crystalline cubes of sugar stacked like bricks on a silver platter. Motor oil is poured onto the structure they form, and as the white solid absorbs the black liquid, it crumbles and pools in the platter as a glistening, viscous mass. Disintegrating the sweet, bite-sized sugar cubes with the crude fuel that powers so much of our contemporary activity, Attia presents a sensually seductive image of destruction, rife with open-ended metaphors in the realms of art, religion, and politics. He describes the form of the white cube as “the core symbol of art, of the space of art, of the institution.” Drenched in oil and rendered black, the structure evokes the Kaaba, the Islamic holy site circled by pilgrims on their annual Hajj to Mecca. Once dissolved by oil, it calls to mind the ongoing destruction and violence sparked by religious and political difference and competition for fossil fuel resources in the Middle East. Composed with contrasting color, texture, form, and temporal flow, Oil and Sugar #2 instills beauty in collapse, seduction in destruction, through means both direct and resonant.

First screened in Boston during the run of Attia’s 2007 ICA/Boston exhibition Momentum 9: Kader Attia, Oil and Sugar #2 shares conceptual and formal parallels with other works in the museum’s collection, including the slow-motion parable of Paul Chan’s digital animation 1st Light, 2005, and the paradoxical balance in Tara Donovan’s cube, Untitled (Pins), 2003.

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From the outset of his career, Paul Chan has worked as both an artist and a political activist. Using diverse media—film, animation, design, and performance—Chan often grapples directly with political issues, from creating a guide that offers protesters ways to intervene in the 2004 Republican National Convention to staging a play with residents of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

1st Light is the first of a seven-part cycle of animations in which Chan addresses the themes of religion, politics, and art. A shape-shifting parable of politics and religion in a post-9/11 world, Chan’s animation is both morally and aesthetically resonant. Drawn on a computer and projected on the gallery floor, the simple but dramatic silhouettes in the work describe an apocalyptic vision of the world. Shadowy bodies fall, earthly objects rise to the heavens, and the audience is confronted with the meaning of salvation and faith in an era dominated by war, consumerism, and terror. Chan was the fifth artist chosen for the ICA’s Momentum exhibition series, and 1st Light was featured centrally in his installation.

The first work by Chan to enter the ICA/Boston collection, 1st Light signals the museum’s commitment to support important artists at emerging points in their careers, and to build a collection that reflects the key issues, media, and forms of the twenty-first century.

2006.1

In his work, Christian Jankowski often invites the participation of others—from theologians, children, psychoanalysts, talk-show hosts, and art professionals to passing strangers—overturning notions of artistic “control” to open us to questions about the nature of contemporary art and its relation to other forms of social expression and connection. With video and film works produced through such expressive venues as televangelism, traditional documentary, therapy sessions, Hollywood special effects, karaoke recordings, and magic, Jankowski reveals the construction of belief required by each, with a winking humor that lets us laugh with him.

Point of Sale exemplifies the primary strategies of Jankowski’s practice: collaboration, crossover, chance, and critical wit. In the video, he has spliced together interview and video footage of three New York professionals in their workplaces to form a synchronized three-part exchange. Appearing on three separate channels are uptown management consultant Clayton Press; veteran electronics dealer George Kunstlinger (in his Chinatown shop, Kunst Sales, Inc.); and Jankowski’s art dealer Michele Maccarone (whose new gallery, maccarone inc., opened upstairs from Kunst Sales). Interviewing both Kunstlinger and Maccarone, Press questions, consults, and advises these neighbors on their respective clienteles, financial challenges, and business strategies. Meanwhile, Jankowski has arranged for the interviewees to deliver each other’s answers, effectively spotlighting the shared risks, challenges, and goals of their highly specialized ventures. As Jankowski’s first project for a commercial gallery in New York, Point of Sale plays on the overlapping location and vocation of two small businesses (their “point” of sale) while probing the wider intersection between art and commerce—and Jankowski’s own place in it.

A video work that challenges the status quo of contemporary art production, consumption, and presentation, Point of Sale is a bold first statement of the ICA/Boston’s new commitment to collecting the most innovative work of our time.

2005.1

Christian Jankowski gained recognition in the 1990s for challenging conventional perceptions of art by producing his projects within interactive situations. His performative work is often captured and displayed on videos that take into account the context of the viewing space.

The Hunt, first conceived in 1992, is Jankowski’s most seminal early project, and the first of his videos to include the conceptual twists and self-reflexive humor that now define his mature practice. In this video, edited from weeklong filming, he tests the cliché of the “starving artist” while immersing himself in the realm of everyday commerce. The footage captures a young Jankowski’s quest to eat only groceries he shoots in the supermarket with a bow and arrow. The metaphors for striking success and survival as an artist are implicit. Amplifying the absurdity of “hunting” for shrink-wrapped, price-tagged products is the nonchalance of a cashier who rings up the arrow-struck items without reaction. The result is an amusing critique on the disaffected commercialization of securing sustenance, long a trope of high-adrenalin masculinity and honor in mythology and art history.

Included in the ICA/Boston’s inaugural installation in its new building, The Hunt was a gift to the museum from the artist, and it joins his 3-channel video Point of Sale, 2002. Incisively direct, the early work shows the groundwork for the latter project’s more discursive investigation of art, business, and their overlap. Differing in level of subtlety, complexity, and production value, both works frame the uncertain stakes of pursuing art in a world now defined by sales. Joining a number of other video works in the ICA’s collection, The Hunt marks the museum’s important support of video art from the 1970s to the present.

2007.1

Julian Opie explores time-honored artistic subject matter, such as landscape, the figure, and portraiture, and renders these in contemporary media, including digitally enhanced drawing, photography, and animation, to impart an updated feel to these traditional subjects. In addition to exhibitions in galleries and museums, he has created dozens of projects for public and commercial settings, including airports, hospitals, shopping centers, and public parks. Opie has also collaborated with unusual partners for some projects, including the rock bands Blur and U2 and the Formula One race-car team.

Suzanne Walking in Leather Skirt is from a body of Julian Opie’s work that bears a close relationship to two works commissioned and exhibited through the ICA/Boston’s Vita Brevis program, a series of temporary outdoor art projects launched in 1998. In October 2005, the ICA unveiled two walking portraits by Opie on the Northern Avenue Bridge—Julian Walking and Suzanne Walking—which served as unofficial “ambassadors” for the new ICA building, located a short distance away. Suzanne Walking in Leather Skirt depicts a continuous computer animation of a stylized figure walking in an endless looped cycle. The highly simplified figure possesses a lyrical and lifelike movement, forming a jarring combination of the artificial and the natural.

The addition of this work introduces a new artist into the ICA’s collection and a new genre of moving-image work, one that complements Paul Chan’s animation work 1st Light while building on the museum’s strength in portraiture.

2006.15

Rachel Perry’s drawing, video, sculpture, and installation work celebrates the often-overlooked beauty and humor of everyday life. Living as a very young child with her family and two chanting monks in a temple in Kyoto impressed on the artist the wonder of paying close attention to all aspects of the quotidian. She says, “I will continue to thoroughly—some might say obsessively—examine all aspects of my life and try to make sense of them.” Traces of the everyday, the physical, the ephemeral, and the virtual are the building blocks of Perry’s work, which involves the artful accumulation of receipts, family medical records, produce stickers, grocery packaging, voice message recordings, and other materials that are usually discarded.

Karaoke Wrong Number evidences Perry’s highly inventive use of virtual material that most would delete without a second thought. She saved a series of messages left in error on her telephone answering machine, compelled by the urgency and expectation she detected in the recordings. Filming herself in the video in a frontal head-and-shoulders view, Perry lip-synchs the messages, with expert timing and facial expressions, maintaining a deadpan expression between messages. The video work revels in the simultaneous connections and disconnections of contemporary life, where technology both assists and impedes communication. The voicemail messages concern matters both businesslike and intimate, from tax filings to an attempt to repair an estranged relationship. The apparent trust these individuals have that their entreaties will reach the right ears is both heartbreaking and familiar.

When exhibited as part of the ICA/Boston’s 2006 Foster Prize exhibition, the work captured the imagination of visitors, and in the collection it joins other important video work by Kader Attia and Christian Jankowski.

2007.4

The artist Nathalie Djurberg and musician/composer Hans Berg frequently collaborate on projects that span the cinematic, the sculptural, and the performative to explore the deepest human emotions—desire, compassion, fear, love, pain, regret, and grief. The collaborators’ immersive sensorial environments are a mélange of claymation projections and sculptures by Djurberg and electronic soundscapes by Berg. As in dark folktales, visitors enter fictive worlds populated by human and animal archetypes whose sexual discovery, aggression, vulnerability, and pain expose the fragile and harsh realities of the world. Djurberg’s characters ignore and defy unwritten laws of social conduct with consequences that are simultaneously absurd, humorous, and horrific.

Bang Your Little Drums begins by presenting phrases like “stomp your little feet, snap your little finger” written in Day-Glo colors against a black background. The accompanying musical track seems to take a cue from the text; as the phrases describing banal actions repeat, it rises to orchestral heights. There is no unified narrative, but threads that seem to ravel and unravel: a chained brown bear scoops ice cream, a man unpeels a giant banana, a young boy emerges from a cocoon. The vignettes suggest a transformation and transfiguration of characters that hinges on the grotesque and humorous.

This video enriches the ICA/Boston’s small collection of moving-image works and distinguishes itself as the only piece using claymation as a technique. The addition of this work to the museum’s collection marks the artists’ 2014 exhibition at the ICA.

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Through performances and multimedia installations, Sharon Hayes investigates how speech—both public and private—transects with politics, history, personal identity, desire, and love. By appropriating the tools of twentieth-century protest and demonstration, she reconfigures the images of the protestor in a manner that destabilizes the viewer’s expectations, exposes the possibilities and challenges of reviving past models of protest, and highlights the friction between collective activities and personal actions.

Ricerche: three is the first in a series of works that will carry the title Ricerche. In Ricerche: three, Hayes interviews 35 students at Mount Holyoke College, a women’s college in western Massachusetts, about issues surrounding sex, sexuality, and gender. As the interview unfolds, the camera alternates between a focus on the group and on Hayes with specific interviewees. This provides a unique dual portrait of the student body and of individual students, a distinction that grows as the conversation becomes more heated and individual identities become more prominent. By investigating students at a women’s college, Hayes addresses individual and collective issues surrounding gender-segregated institutions, including the perception that women’s colleges are a hotbed of lesbian culture and the community’s responsibility to accommodate students who change their gender after enrollment. Ricerche: three is inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1963 film Comizi d’amore, in which Pasolini investigates Italy’s postwar cultural attitudes toward sex by asking Italians—young and old—to speak in detail about various issues: childbirth, virginity, homosexuality, divorce, and prostitution. His questioning and his manner are intrusive, judgmental, and at times confrontational. Hayes uses Pasolini’s film as a model for a contemporary inquiry into the issues around sexual identity in the United States today.

This important work adds to the diversity of the ICA/Boston’s growing collection of video, including works by Kader Attia, Paul Chan, Christian Jankowski, and Mika Rottenberg. Ricerche: three also contributes to the ICA’s collection of photographs that examine individual and collective identity by artists such as Rineke Dijkstra, Nan Goldin, Ragnar Kjartansson, and Catherine Opie, who similarly challenge long-held assumptions about sex, gender, and sexuality.

2014.03

Luther Price is Boston-based filmmaker and video artist who constructs his pieces by using found footage drawn from a vast array of sources, including documentaries, pornography, and Hollywood features. His practice involves physically manipulating film, exposing the medium to extreme conditions by scratching, painting, and distressing the surface, or even burying it underground to collect dust, insects, and mold.

In Number 9, the artist produced four hundred slides projected by five carrousels in an evenly spaced row and simultaneously looped, an arrangement that connects his work with animation and early cinema. For each slide, Price has combined recycled imagery with film he has shot himself and overlaid this visual imagery with hair, ink, and organic materials. He exposed the film to conditions so that it would rot and develop mold to distort and abstract the imagery. The individual slides vary vastly from silhouettes of monstrous insects to abstract patterns, from earthy tones to brilliant reds and oranges, resulting in a visually arresting experience. The artist has said about this work: “With Number 9, I feel I move to a visceral context very familiar to me in an autobiographical sense. I have a physical background in sculpture. So this work in particular is very 3-D.”

Number 9 was exhibited in the ICA/Boston’s 2013 Foster Prize exhibition and this piece contributes to the museum’s ongoing support of Boston artists, joining works by artists such as Taylor Davis, Kelly Sherman, and Andrew Witkin, among others. A strong addition to the collection, it broadens the conversation around painterly abstraction in photography and film by artists such as Kader Attia, Noriko Furunishi, and Pipilotti Rist.

2013.13