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The New Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU Opens to Critical and Public Acclaim


Richmond’s first major contemporary art institution welcomed more than 7,000 during opening weekend.

Richmond’s first major contemporary art institution welcomed more than 7,000 during opening weekend.

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond’s first major arts institution dedicated to contemporary art,opened to the public on April 21 with a celebratory block party welcoming more than 7,000 members of the VCU and Greater Richmond communities. Located at the intersection of Richmond’s Belvidere and Broad streets, the ICA anchors one of the city’s busiest gateways in a building designed by Steven Holl Architects with dual entrances to the city and campus. The ICA is a significant new cultural resource for Richmond, in addition to offering a vital dimension to the research university. Admission to the ICA is free.

“Our opening weekend exceeded our expectations in so many ways. More than just numbers, the people who walked through our doors hailed from a diverse set of backgrounds, locales, and perspectives. The cross-section of community present inside and outside of our walls this weekend was beautiful to witness,” said Joseph H. Seipel, interim director of the ICA. “Beginning with our inaugural exhibition ‘Declaration,’ our programming demonstrates the significant role the ICA will play in our vibrant community. Given our location on a major research university campus and our commitment to free admission, the ICA is a forum for open dialogue, collaboration and the exchange of perspectives.”

“This weekend we opened an incredible new resource for our community in an iconic building that will become a new landmark for Richmond,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “We are proud to welcome the ICA to the VCU community and know that the ICA will significantly extend VCU’s reach, creating a new destination for art lovers from around the world and a space where art can help facilitate engagement with important issues of our time.”

Designed by internationally renowned firm Steven Holl Architects, the ICA’s building, named the Markel Center, provides a striking gateway to the city, with its iconic torqued design and dramatic geometries. Its titanium-zinc and etched-glass exterior has “a contemporary sculptural personality unlike anything else in Richmond,” (The Wall Street Journal, Julie Iovine) and “provides a counterpoint to its red brick surroundings, announcing that something different will be going on here” (Architectural Record, Beth Broome).

Inside the monolithic and sculptural Markel Center, visitors can “explore the building’s unfolding interiors … [to experience] the ICA’s full immersive power,” and “will find an organic, constantly changing embrace within” (The Architect’s Newspaper, Jonathan Hilburg). Comprising 41,000 square feet, the ICA features dynamic exhibition and programming spaces, including an inviting 33-foot entrance forum, four galleries, an outdoor green space, auditorium, café and classrooms that can support widely varied forms of contemporary art.

Envisioned as a forum for collaboration and conversation, the ICA will serve as an incubator for innovation, a pilot space for curatorial and educational practices, and a source of programming that will foster experimentation across artistic disciplines. Its inaugural exhibition, “Declaration,” an exploration of contemporary art’s power to respond to pressing social issues through the voices of 34 emerging and established artists from Richmond and around the globe, will “boldly confront pressing social issues in a city that was once the capital of the Confederacy” (The New York Times, Hilarie M. Sheets) and “stir conversations in the Richmond community] that might otherwise remain hush-hush” (The Wall Street Journal, Kelly Crow).

“We are thrilled to open the ICA and ‘Declaration’ to our community,” said ICA Chief Curator Stephanie Smith. “In our planning, it was important for us to think about what can the ICA contribute to VCU, Richmond, and the art world at large, and how we can add to the diverse and rich fabric of artistic exchange and inquiry that already exists locally and nationally. We hope the ICA and future programming will provide a platform for continued conversations on todays’ most pressing issues.”

About ‘Declaration’

The exhibition highlights the transformative power of art and artists. Featuring a dynamic, cross-generational group of established and emerging artists, “Declaration” includes many exciting new commissions. Themes such as racial justice, gender, communication across barriers, human impact on the built and natural environment, and responses to social dysphoria weave throughout the exhibition, emerging through a variety of artistic media and methods of impact. Art fills the fluid volumes of the building, activating sites beyond the ICA’s four galleries, from the entrance forum to the café to the auditorium. “Declaration” also features off-site collaborations and performances, including those for the Festival of the River on Brown’s Island in Richmond on June 8-10. The ICA’s open circulation allows visitors to experience the exhibition in a nonprescribed sequence from multiple sightlines, reinforcing the importance of choice and agency and the wide range of responses that art can foster.

“Why a declaration? Because declarations are strong statements that mark beginnings, clarify intentions, and propose a social contract,” Smith said. “This is true whether we think about something as personal as a declaration of love between two people, or as grandly public as the Declaration of Independence. Simultaneously grounded in our rich local context and engaged with global concerns, ‘Declaration’ affirms the ICA’s commitment to researching, supporting and sharing projects that strengthen the common good.”

The ICA will present related educational programs throughout the duration of the exhibition, including specialized audio tours featuring both the building’s architecture and art, with insights from architects Steven Holl and Chris McVoy, select “Declaration” artists, members of the ICA and VCU team, and voices from the community. Visitors also can request custom in-person tours of “Declaration” focusing on any theme they wish or attend an “Artist’s Choice” monthly series — kicking off in May with VCU School of the Arts Professor Stephen Vitiello — an artist-curated evening program that will provide a range of perspectives.

Artists featured in “Declaration” include: Nidaa Badwan, Peter Burr and Porpentine Charity Heartscape, Martín Bonadeo, Cassils, Chim↑Pom, Sonya Clark, Andrea Donnelly, Edie Fake, Hope Ginsburg, GWAR, Kate Just, Titus Kaphar, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Autumn Knight, Lily Lamberta and All the Saints Theater Company, Lee Mingwei, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Noor Nuyten, Geof Oppenheimer, Amalia Pica, Cheryl Pope, Paul Rucker, Curtis Talwst Santiago, Marinella Senatore, Jon-Phillip Sheridan, Deb Sokolow, Tavares Strachan, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Betty Tompkins, Stephen Vitiello, Levester Williams, and Winter Count.

“Declaration” is co-curated by Stephanie Smith, Lisa Freiman and Amber Esseiva, with Johanna Plummer and Lauren Ross.