Institute of Contemporary Arts

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Institute of Contemporary Arts
The Institute of Contemporary Arts, London entrance.jpg
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Location within Central London
Location The Mall, London
(offices in Carlton House Terrace)
Coordinates 51°30′24″N0°07′50″W / 51.506608°N 0.13061°W / 51.506608; -0.13061 Coordinates: 51°30′24″N0°07′50″W / 51.506608°N 0.13061°W / 51.506608; -0.13061
Director Stefan Kalmár
Public transit access Underground no-text.svg Charing Cross
National Rail logo.svg Charing Cross

The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) is an artistic and cultural centre on The Mall in London, just off Trafalgar Square. Located within Nash House, part of Carlton House Terrace, near the Duke of York Steps and Admiralty Arch, the ICA contains galleries, a theatre, two cinemas, a bookshop and a bar. Stefan Kalmár became its director in 2016.

Modernism movement of art, culture and philosophy

Modernism is both a philosophical movement and an art movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Trafalgar Square Public space and tourist attraction in central London

Trafalgar Square is a public square in the City of Westminster, Central London, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain that took place on 21 October 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar.



The ICA was founded by Roland Penrose, Peter Watson, Herbert Read, Peter Gregory, [1] Geoffrey Grigson and E. L. T. Mesens in 1947. The ICA's founders intended to establish a space where artists, writers and scientists could debate ideas outside the traditional confines of the Royal Academy. The model for establishing the ICA was the earlier Leeds Arts Club, founded in 1903 by Alfred Orage, of which Herbert Read had been a leading member. Like the ICA, this too was a centre for multi-disciplinary debate, combined with avant-garde art exhibition and performances, within a framework that emphasised a radical social outlook. [2]

Roland Penrose British artist and art historian

Sir Roland Algernon Penrose was an English artist, historian and poet. He was a major promoter and collector of modern art and an associate of the surrealists in the United Kingdom. During the Second World War he put his artistic skills to practical use as a teacher of camouflage.

Victor William (Peter) Watson was a wealthy English art collector and benefactor. He funded the literary magazine, Horizon, edited by Cyril Connolly.

Herbert Read English anarchist, poet, and critic of literature and art

Sir Herbert Edward Read, DSO, MC was an English art historian, poet, literary critic and philosopher, best known for numerous books on art, which included influential volumes on the role of art in education. Read was co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. As well as being a prominent English anarchist, he was one of the earliest English writers to take notice of existentialism.

The first two exhibitions at the ICA, 40 Years of Modern Art and 40,000 Years of Modern Art, were organised by Penrose, and reflected his interests in Cubism and African art, taking place in the basement of the Academy Cinema, 165 Oxford Street. The Academy Cinema building included the Pavilion, a restaurant, and the Marquee ballroom in the basement; the building was managed by George Hoellering, the film, jazz and big band promoter. [3]

Cubism Early-20th-century avant-garde art movement

Cubism is an early-20th-century avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture. Cubism has been considered the most influential art movement of the 20th century. The term is broadly used in association with a wide variety of art produced in Paris during the 1910s and throughout the 1920s.

African art modern and historical aesthetic, material, oral/audio and visual culture native to or originating from indigenous Africans or the African continent

African art describes the modern and historical paintings, sculptures, installations, and other visual culture from native or indigenous Africans and the African continent. The definition may also include the art of the African diasporas, such as African American, Caribbean or art in South American societies inspired by African traditions. Despite this diversity, there are unifying artistic themes present, when considering the totality of the visual culture from the continent of Africa.

George Michael Hoellering was an Austrian film director, producer and cinema manager. He directed Hortobagy (1936) about the Puszta in Hungary, as well as the 1951 British film Murder in the Cathedral, which he co-wrote with T. S. Eliot. He was the director of the Academy Cinema in London's Oxford Street from 1944 until his death in 1980.

With the acquisition of 17 Dover Street, Piccadilly, in May 1950, the ICA was able to expand considerably. Ewan Phillips served as the first director. It was the former residence of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. The gallery, clubroom and offices were refurbished by modernist architect Jane Drew assisted by Neil Morris and Eduardo Paolozzi. Paolozzi decorated the bar area and designed a metal and concrete table with student Terence Conran. [4]

Dover Street street in Mayfair, London, England

Dover Street is a street in Mayfair, London. The street is notable for its Georgian architecture as well as the location of historic London clubs and hotels, which have been frequented by world leaders and historic figures in the arts. It also hosts a number of contemporary art galleries. An equestrian sculpture by Elisabeth Frink stands on the junction of Dover Street and Piccadilly, opposite the Ritz Hotel.

Jane Drew English writer, architect, academic

Dame Jane Drew, DBE, FRIBA was an English modernist architect and town planner. She qualified at the Architectural Association School in London, and prior to World War II became one of the leading exponents of the Modern Movement in London.

Eduardo Paolozzi

SirEduardo Luigi Paolozzi was a Scottish sculptor and artist. He is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of pop art.

Ewan Phillips left in 1951, and Dorothy Morland was asked to take over temporarily, but stayed there as director for 18 years, until the move to the more spacious Nash House. [5] The critic Reyner Banham acted as assistant Director during the early 1950s, followed by Lawrence Alloway during the mid- to later 1950s. In its early years, the Institute organised exhibitions of modern art including Picasso and Jackson Pollock. A Georges Braque exhibition was held at the ICA in 1954. It also launched Pop art, Op art, and British Brutalist art and architecture. The Independent Group met at the ICA in 1952–1962/63 and organised several exhibitions, including This Is Tomorrow .

Reyner Banham British architectural critic

Peter Reyner Banham, FRIBA was an English architectural critic and writer best known for his theoretical treatise Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960) and for his 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. In the latter he categorized the Los Angeles experience into four ecological models and explored the distinct architectural cultures of each. Banham worked in London, but lived primarily in the United States from the late 1960s until the end of his life.

Lawrence Reginald Alloway was an English art critic and curator who worked in the United States from 1961. In the 1950s, he was a leading member of the Independent Group in the UK and in the 1960s was an influential writer and curator in the US. He first used the term "mass popular art" in the mid-1950s and used the term "Pop Art" in the 1960s to indicate that art has a basis in the popular culture of its day and takes from it a faith in the power of images. From 1954 until his death in 1990, he was married to the painter Sylvia Sleigh.

Jackson Pollock American painter

Paul Jackson Pollock was an American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement.

Institute of Contemporary Arts Institute of Contemporary Arts in London 2004.jpg
Institute of Contemporary Arts

With the support of the Arts Council, the ICA moved to its current site at Nash House in 1968. For a period during the 1970s the Institute was known for its often anarchic programme and administration. Norman Rosenthal, then director of exhibitions, was once assaulted by a group of people who were living in the upper floors of the building: a bloodstain on the wall of the administrative offices is preserved under glass, with a note reading "this is Normans's blood". Rosenthal claims the group which assaulted him included the actor Keith Allen. [6]

Norman Rosenthal British art historian

Sir Norman Rosenthal is a British independent curator and art historian. From 1970 to 1974 he was Exhibitions Officer at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. In 1974 he became a curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, leaving in 1976. The following year, in 1977, he joined the Royal Academy in London as Exhibitions Secretary where he remained until his resignation in 2008. Rosenthal has been a trustee of numerous different national and international cultural organisations since the 1980s; he is currently on the board of English National Ballet. In 2007, he was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. Rosenthal is well known for his support of contemporary art, and is particularly associated with the German artists Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer and Julian Schnabel, the Italian painter Francesco Clemente, and the generation of British artists that came to prominence in the early 1990s known as the YBAs.

Keith Allen (actor) Wales born, British actor

Keith Howell Charles Allen is a British actor and television presenter. He is the father of singer Lily Allen and actor Alfie Allen, and brother of actor and director Kevin Allen.

Bill McAllister was ICA Director from 1977 to 1990, when the Institute developed a system of separate departments specializing in visual art; cinema; and theatre, music and performance art. A fourth department was devoted to talks and lectures. Iwona Blazwick was Director of Exhibitions from 1986 to 1993. Other notable curatorial and programming staff have included Lisa Appignanesi (Deputy Director of ICA and Head of Talks, 1980–90), James Lingwood (Exhibition Curator, 1986–90), Michael Morris (Director of Theatre), Lois Keidan, (Director of Live Arts, 1992–97), Catherine Ugwu, MBE (Deputy Director of Live Arts, 1991–97), Tim Highsted (Deputy Director of Cinema, 1988–95) and Jens Hoffmann (Director of Exhibitions, 2003–07).

Mik Flood took over as director of the ICA in 1990 after McAllister's resignation. Flood announced that the Institute would have to leave its Mall location and move to a larger site, a plan that ultimately came to nothing. [7] He also oversaw a sponsorship scheme whereby the electrical goods company Toshiba paid to have their logo included on every piece of ICA publicity for three years, and in effect changed the name of the ICA to ICA/Toshiba. [8] He was replaced as Director in 1997 by Philip Dodd. In 2002, the then ICA Chairman Ivan Massow criticised what he described as "concept art", leading to his resignation. [9]

Following the departure of Dodd, the ICA appointed Ekow Eshun as Artistic Director in 2005. [10] Under Eshun's directorship the Live Arts Department was closed down in 2008, the charge for admission for non-members was abandoned (resulting in a reduction of membership numbers and a cash shortfall), the Talks Department lost all its personnel, and many commentators argued that the Institute suffered from a lack of direction. [11] A large financial deficit led to redundancies and resignations of key staff. Art critic JJ Charlesworth saw Eshun’s directorship as a direct cause of the ICA's ills; criticizing Eshun's reliance on private sponsorship, his cultivation of a "cool" ICA brand, and his focus on a cross-disciplinary approach that was put in place "at the cost", Charlesworth wrote "of a loss of curatorial expertise." [12] Problems between staff and Eshun, sometimes supported by the Chairman of the ICA Board, Alan Yentob, led to fractious and difficult staff relations. [13] Eshun resigned in August 2010, and Yentob announced he would leave. [14] [15]

In January 2011, the ICA appointed as its Executive Director Gregor Muir, who took up his post on 7 February 2011. [16] Muir stepped down in 2016 and was replaced by former Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár. [17]

Notable exhibitions and events


Membership of the ICA is available to the general public. The ICA is constituted as a private limited company, run by a 13-member Board and led by a Director.

ICA Directors

See also

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  1. Jane Drew to The Times, 14 February 1959.
  2. Nannette Aldred, 'A sufficient Flow of Vital Ideas: Herbert Read and the Flow of Ideas from the Leeds Arts Club to the ICA' in Michael Paraskos (ed.) Re-Reading Read: New Views on Herbert Read (London: Freedom Press, 2008) p. 70.
  3. Allen Eyles, "Cinemas & Cinemagoing: Art House & Repertory" Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine , BFI Screenonline.
  4. Massey, A. (1995). The Independent Group: modernism and mass culture in Britain, 1945-59. Manchester (England): Manchester University Press.
  5. Sile Flower, Jean Macfarlane, Ruth Plant, Jane B. Drew, architect: A tribute from her colleagues and friends for her 75th birthday 24 March 1986, p. 23. Bristol: Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture, 1986, ISBN   0-9510759-0-X.
  6. Hattenstone, Simon (25 November 2002). "I'm a lucky bugger". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 5 March 2017.
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  8. Chin-Tao Wu, Privatising culture: corporate art intervention since the 1980s, Verso, 2003, p. 145.
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  10. Alberge, Dalya (10 March 2005). "ICA appoints the first black gallery director". The Times. London.
  11. "Should we let the ICA die". The Times. London. 28 January 2010. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011.
  12. Milliard, Coline. "London ICA Director Ekow Eshun Submits His Resignation | BLOUIN ARTINFO". Archived from the original on 31 March 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  13. Higgins, Charlotte (23 January 2010). "ICA warns staff it could close by May". The Guardian. London.
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  15. Edemariam, Aida (28 August 2010). "Ekow Eshun: 'It's been a tough year...'". The Guardian. London.
  16. Brown, Mark (11 January 2011). "Gregor Muir to be new ICA chief". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 7 April 2015.
  17. Brown, Mark (19 September 2016). "Stefan Kalmár appointed as new director of the ICA". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 18 March 2017.
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