Trash, Neon And AR Coyotes At The New ICA San Diego
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Last spring Lux art Institute in Encinitas and San Diego art Institute in Balboa park announced they would combine to form the Institute of contemporary arts San Diego in late September, the ICA San Diego finally opened its doors with an exhibition of works by Mexicans conceptual artists, Gabriele Rico months before the opening KPBS arts producer and editor, Julia Dixon Evans spoke with Andrew OOT, the executive director of the new ICA San Diego. They talked about the merger, contemporary art and what the future may hold for the arts in San Diego. Here's that interview?
Speaker 2: (00:41)
What is contemporary art and what then is an Institute of contemporary art?
Speaker 3: (00:48)
Contemporary art is it's art. That is cutting edge. It's art that is happening now. It is art that breaks the traditional boundaries of what you might experience. It's not just a painting. It's not just a sculpture. It could be an installation. It could have media, it could have sound, it could even have smells. So that's what contemporary art is for me at least. And then what is an Institute? Well, we might assume or interpret an Institute to be an educational institution. Uh, it is that in fact, uh, for both institutions, the San Diego art Institute and Lux art Institute, we see education as a very high priority in what we do. It means talking about what's happening in the world. It means talking about what art means, how culture can affect us. And so we educate in somewhat non-traditional ways about, uh, what's happening
Speaker 2: (01:46)
And why are these two established museums merging and why now in the middle of a pandemic and all the cultural upheaval of this last year?
Speaker 3: (01:57)
Well, I should almost put the question back to you, which is why not. Now this is a great opportune time to take advantage of the fact that we are coming together as humanity. We're looking towards a future that is positive. And, uh, we resolve many of our, or we're trying to resolve, I should say many of our global issues that we're dealing with, whether that is specifically the pandemic itself, uh, but also looking at more social justice issues or environmental issues, things that we're really trying to resolve in order to make a better world for all of us. So this is that opportune time. It's, it's a time for us to come together as two institutions and ultimately have more impact across our San Diego county. And ultimately, uh, when we become an ICA together, it becomes part of a, a nationally recognized institution.
Speaker 2: (02:52)
And how might this change, how San Diego Diegans and people in this general border region experience art
Speaker 3: (03:01)
Art is traditionally experience. When you walk into a museum, sometimes you might have it in your home. Sometimes you might see it in a gallery or in a store, some commercial space, or even in someone else's home. We want to challenge the ideas of what it means to experience art. In fact, the mission of the new organization is literally to question everything. So when we question everything, we're also questioning what it means to have a museum space, what it means to have an experience with art. Ultimately, we want to democratize the relationship of experiencing art and to do that. We need to break out of our walls. Uh, so while we will have walls, because it's important to come into a space and experience, uh, that excitement and that joy of being around art and seen something intriguing and engaging something that you'll walk away from and, and have that knowledge or remembrance of, but also we want to bring it into your home. We want to bring it onto the street onto bus stops onto billboards, uh, onto your screens at home. The pandemic has shown that we can really engage people through virtual means through technology, but how do we expand that into a broader array of, of our spaces, um, both outdoors and indoors.
Speaker 2: (04:22)
And this has been, uh, a volatile year for museum workers and for artists, will things change for the staff of these, these separate institutes?
Speaker 3: (04:34)
Well, we're going to be adding more staff as a result of the merger. Uh, we have done things on a very slim staff. In fact, it's pretty amazing that, uh, for instance, Lux, we have been very focused on challenging the preconceptions of how you engage with art, especially in a technological way. And, uh, you may remember Julia, the, the app that we produced for the phone, where you could, uh, use augmented reality to bring artwork inside your home, or even walk through our gallery space, uh, through augmented reality. And those are some of the ways that we want to engage people, certainly with the pandemic. You know, we saw a lot of financial issues, not just with our institution, but across the board with all businesses. Um, we have been lucky enough to be sustainable during this time period. You know, that that's a huge thing to say to, to be sustainable during a pandemic, but we, we have been, which is amazing. And in addition to that, uh, we see ourselves flourishing with this new way of thinking about the world at and about space.
Speaker 2: (05:42)
The first exhibition you'll hold in the newly inaugurated space will be work by Mexican artists, Gabrielle Rico. And I spoke to Gabrielle last week about his plans to initially start working with scientific institutions and cultural institutions here to get a sense of the anthropology of this place and the community. And here's what he said.
Speaker 4: (06:05)
Don't just work inside the ICA facilities. I want to cross the limits, the walls and make connections with these kinds of institutions, but make connections with the society because at the end, the great thing of a show, if we say great show, that's my personal opinion, of course, is when the people, the CP sense of that precise city start to believe in the museum or in the institution.
Speaker 2: (06:37)
Andrew, what is it about this artist and this approach that is perfect for the ICA San Diego?
Speaker 3: (06:45)
Well, I think Gabriela just hit it right on the nose there when he talked about building those connections between institutions and the people who live in the city. And that really is, you know, about how we can really challenge the ideas of what our walls mean. Uh, the other point is that Gabrielle is very contemporary in his work. He's really pushing the boundaries of what we experience and what we understand art to be. Um, he's using sort of non-traditional in the, in the sense of art means of using manmade objects or existing objects like taxidermied objects or Coca-Cola bottles, and then merging those with ceramic creations or, um, other objects that he has created to build these sort of environmental scapes. And we start to think about the environment around us and the objects that we consume and the objects that we dispose of. And so he starts to talk about some environmental impact questions that we have around the world. Uh, he's tackling some of those issues and wants to call attention to what those mean. And also the delicacy of them, what it means to throw, uh, a bottle back into the world and what that can do to the changing ecosystem.
Speaker 1: (08:06)
That was Andrew [inaudible] speaking with KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dickson Evans.
Speaker 5: (08:12)
The new Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego opens in Balboa Park this weekend with artist Gabriel Rico's found objects, ethereal neon and taxidermy, with a companion installation at The Nat.
In March, Lux Art Institute and San Diego Art Institute announced they would combine to form the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego (ICA San Diego). This weekend, the doors will open at ICA Central, the Balboa Park space.
What's an ICA?
The ICA San Diego is the merger of Lux Art Institute — which was focused on bringing the public and artists together in the artistic process through residencies and education — and San Diego Art Institute, a generously sized contemporary art exhibition space in the heart of Balboa Park. As an Institute of Contemporary Art, it aims to invite the entirety of the region to explore contemporary art in meaningful, local and accessible ways.
ICA San Diego is free to the public, placing the institution on the short-but-growing list of museums in Balboa Park that are eschewing traditional admission fee models.
RELATED: Low- and No-Cost Museum Admission Aims to Boost Access
What's on view?
The first exhibition at ICA Central is Mexican conceptual artist Gabriel Rico's "Unity in Variety." Rico has filled the gallery with neon, found objects, found video, anthropomorphized sculptures, sand, and taxidermy on loan from The Nat.
There's also a lot of stuff that looks like it might be trash.
The use of found, regional objects (and trash) is Rico's way of making work that's significant to a time and a place, and its community.
"You can define a period of time just with one object. For example, a Coca-Cola bottle. If you see a Coca-Cola bottle you can define a precise space-time situation, just because before a certain point in time it’s known that the humans cannot have the capacity to manipulate or create glass. Another example is a CD or USB port," Rico said earlier this year.
The neon works — groupings of characters, shapes and symbols — hang from the vast ceiling as you enter, but neon also plays a role in Rico's other works.
"Neon is that sort of plane between the tangible and ethereal. It's a gas. So you're talking about something that's not really tangible, but we make it tangible visually. So for him, it's that perfect medium," said ICA San Diego executive director Andrew Utt.
Gabriel Rico's exhibition, "Unity in Variety" will be on view at ICA Central (1439 El Prado, Balboa Park) until January 23, 2022.
The gallery's admission-free hours are Friday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
Rico constructed several stick figure-like sculptures using corrugated steel, found objects, ceramic art pieces and in most cases, a screen positioned as a head. The six sculptures are in the "Fish begin to stink by the head" series, and each invites a closer look, either with found video or spinning holograms.
There's also an augmented reality coyote in the exhibition. With the museum's app, you can follow a coyote around the gallery. The use of AR is a big nod towards interaction and accessibility. The coyote might be the primary way visitors engage with the art and the space, or it might be another layer.
How is the Nat involved?
The San Diego Natural History Museum let Rico browse their exhibition library and borrow taxidermy and other specimens like rocks or petrified wood for placement in the ICA gallery. The creatures and birds are situated across the sand-covered gallery floor, integrated in his exhibition, bringing the human experience of nature to the forefront of his work.
Rico was also invited to install companion work at The Nat, in their "Unshelved" exhibition. Amongst the taxidermy specimens, Rico hung neon symbols and positioned the specimens to gaze at the light. One mounted skull is adorned with carefully positioned inflatable beach balls.
The neon symbols in The Nat installation are significant, and are a continuation of the hanging neon series at ICA, Utt said.
"These are all connector symbols, symbols that either reference something else or to tie ideas and thoughts together. The ampersand is literally to represent "and" and connect two ideas, the asterisk is a reference for more information. The pound symbol, the hashtag, is to give reference to more connectivity," said Utt. There's also an "@" symbol and a dollar sign — indicating a transaction and consumption of objects.
What about the Lux Art Institute space?
ICA North is the former Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, and Christine Howard Sandoval's artist residency continues through Oct. 31, 2021.
Also on view at ICA North is "Position Vector Salton Sea," a project in partnership with the Torres Martinez Cahuilla Desert Indian Tribal Community and land artist Hans Baumann. It measures the Salton Sea's rate of disappearance, and the exhibition uses ceramics, video and drawing from the work of dozens of young people in the tribal community. That's on view through Nov. 14, 2021.