The New Institute Of Contemporary Art San Diego Wants To Question Everything
Speaker 1: 00:00 I knew Institute of contemporary art has formed in San Diego, merging the San Diego art Institute in Balboa park with the Lux art Institute in Encinitas, the new museum will keep both campuses opening in the fall with an exhibition by Mexican artists, Gabriele Rico luxes Andrew [inaudible] will serve as the ICA San Diego executive director. And he speaks with KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans. Speaker 2: 00:29 What is contemporary art? And what then is an Institute of contemporary art? Speaker 3: 00:36 Temporary 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 the 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: 01:34 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: 01:45 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, uh, 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: 02:40 And how might this change, how San Diego runs and people in this general border region experience art Speaker 3: 02:49 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 seeing 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: 04:10 And this has been, uh, a volatile year for museum workers and for artists, well, things change for the staff of these, these separate institutes. Speaker 3: 04:22 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 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 have been, which is amazing. And in addition to that, uh, we see ourselves flourishing with this new way of thinking about the world and about space. Speaker 2: 05:30 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. Don't just work inside the ICA facilities. I Speaker 1: 05:58 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. Andrew, what is it about this artist and this approach that is perfect for the ICA San Diego? Speaker 3: 06:33 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 man-made 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 a bottle back into the world and what that can do to the changing ecosystem. Speaker 1: 07:54 That was Andrew oof, the executive director of the new Institute of contemporary arts, San Diego speaking with KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans.
San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park and Lux Art Institute in Encinitas will become the ICA San Diego, opening this fall with site-responsive work by Mexican artist Gabriel Rico.
The Lux Art Institute in Encinitas and San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park will soon join forces, creating a new and experimental Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) San Diego that aims to "question everything."
"We've had to rethink everything about our lives, about who we are, how we do things and, ultimately, what we're doing is we're questioning ourselves and we're questioning how we're doing things," said Andrew Utt, the incoming executive director for the new organization and current executive director of Lux Art Institute.
The merger was not necessitated by the pandemic, but it made sense during this heightened time of collaboration and adaptation, Utt said.
"Oftentimes creativity is perceived as something that artists do and that's just who they are. Ultimately, when we incorporate that creativity into everything that we do, not just creating art, but how we run businesses and organizations, how we reach the public, how we engage with people, how we communicate like this over a virtual sphere, any sort of interaction that we have with the world around us, we have to be creative about it," Utt said.
San Diego Art Institute was founded in Balboa Park in 1941 as the "San Diego Business Men's Art Club." It cycled through a few locations (and name improvements) until landing its current spot just across from the Plaza de Panama in 1996. They claim to be the only solely contemporary cultural institution inside Balboa Park.
Nestled in the hills and canyons of Encinitas, Lux Art Institute began taking shape decades after SDAI, in the late 1990s. In 2007, they opened their current main gallery space. Their vision is to share with audiences the artistic process more than the artistic product. It's an educational model, centering around artist residencies throughout the year, partnerships with regional artists, and community and youth education programs.
Opening in September 2021, the combined spaces of ICA San Diego will total 15,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space in Balboa Park (ICA Central) and Encinitas (ICA North), and upwards of six acres of outdoor space.
All current staff of both organizations will remain. Lux currently employs 10 full-time employees and an average of 15 part-time employees depending on the time of year, and SDAI is operating in a transitional model with a staff of three. They hope to hire more soon.
"In order for San Diego as a region to become part of this globally recognized art world, which can often seem very distant to even artists in our region — for us to do that we have to work collectively," Utt said.
As a unified art organization, Utt said they want to help bring internationally regarded artists in, to engage with the region, as well as help local artists build possibilities out into the world. And he also wants to challenge and broaden audiences and artists.
"What contemporary art means is very broad, you know. We all have ideas about what is art and what can be art — we want to break those traditional boundaries immediately."
Mexican Conceptual Artist Gabriel Rico To Open The Space
The inaugural exhibition will be a solo show of work by contemporary Mexican artist Gabriel Rico.
Rico, who spoke to KPBS from Mexico City, said that when he arrives in San Diego to create work and build this exhibition this summer, he will connect with a broad range of scientific and cultural institutions and communities to understand the community and place here, then allow the art to take shape.
"We are not too different, from Mexico to the United States. We share air, water. We share a very precise geography in some points," Rico said. "I’d really like to start talking about the natural conditions of the region and then I can continue with the socio-cultural situation. So of course it’s too soon to have completely defined the show."
His work is conceptual while also being hyper focused on objects — the philosophical and relational nature of objects and materials, and how in object-oriented ontology the material world is defined by objects.
"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. With those precise points in space and time, he added, you can construct a history. "Or, in my case I construct pieces of art."
This manifests in Rico's work as assemblages of objects, materials and ideas, sometimes including things ranging from taxidermy to natural materials to technological relics, marking a precise time and place, a sort of anthropology.
Contemporary art, Rico said, is just a concept, meaning art that is being made in a specific time. "This doesn't mean you can't mix ancient techniques with new technologies, that's an important part of contemporary art."
Utt said that for their inaugural artist, they wanted someone binational who would fit ICA San Diego's experimental vision, and someone who is already working on themes of the environment, which is their first season's focus.
Gabriel Rico's exhibition will open Sept. 24, 2021 through Jan 23, 2022 at the Balboa Park location, and will include a component of social practice and bringing his work into the community.
In the lead up to Rico's exhibition and the official opening of the space, Lux and SDAI will continue to host planned residencies, exhibitions and educational programming through the summer.