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Now Open, the Institute of Contemporary Art Reminds Us What We've Missed and Why These Encounters Matter

By Michael McCarthy | November 6, 2020 | Culture

For months, we’ve longed for experiencing art in person.

“Cupboard IX” by Simone Leigh.

Most exhibits are love letters to a genre or an artist, but few letters have been written so elegantly as i’m yours, a new show at the Institute of Contemporary Art about our collective relationship to art and how we simply missed seeing it in person the past seven months. While museums and galleries across the country have made laudable efforts to stage exhibits online, experiencing a digital Picasso or Rothko is like holding hands with a mannequin.

“After so many months of seeing art on a screen, it’s shocking and enlivening to see art in person,” says Ruth Erickson, the museum’s Mannion Family curator. “On the screen, everything is about the same size, but in life, this isn’t the case. Many of the artworks in this exhibit are large in scale—they correspond to your body; they tower over you—and others invite you to come very close to revel in tiny details. Encounters with art activate more than just sight; they’re multisensory experiences.”

“i’m yours” by Henry Taylor.

The framework for i’m yours is a breakthrough for the museum. “The galleries have never looked like this before,” says Erickson. “We’re planning a very experimental approach to the architectural design of the space with angled and unfinished walls, theatrical lighting and color. Our approach to the design of the space is part of our effort to reimagine how museums tell stories.”

Gallery guests will have a choose- your-own-adventure story, says Erickson, and have the opportunity to walk among seven distinct scenes—each will have its own ambiance, emotion and theme. New acquisitions star in the exhibit, including a life-size sculpture by Simone Leigh, more than 225 drawings by Firelei Báez and portraits by renowned South African photographer Zanele Muholi. Look for a return of Tara Donovan’s cube of straight pins and Cornelia Parker’s brilliant wood sculpture.

“Hanging Fire” by Cornelia Parker.

“It’s rare for a single exhibit to elicit such a range of emotions and ideas,” Erickson says. “My guess is that every visitor will come away with something quite particular that touched them.” Nov. 18-May 23, 2021, 25 Harbor Shore Drive,

Photography by: Courtesy of the Institute of Contemporary Art