Boston’s ICA reopens with a powerful message


Ashley Fairchild

The i’m yours: Encounters with Art in Our Times exhibit at the ICA is on display until May 23.

Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art reopened on March 20 to a limited number of visitors after hosting virtual events only for the past few months.

The fourth-floor exhibits at the ICA opened with reflective pieces that encapsulate the last year of turmoil and isolation. 

COVID-19 precautions are taken seriously, with an email covering all safety precautions sent to a guest the night before their scheduled visit. The museum has started using contact-free tickets, increased its fresh air intake and requires social distancing and masks at all times.

After climbing four flights of stairs adorned with arrows keeping traffic flow separate, the hand sanitizer station is the first installment you’ll view on your way to new exhibits.

The colorful ICA lobby. (Ashley Fairchild)

To the right, a bright pink wall with oversized black polka dots leads way to the Beyond Infinity: Yayoi Kusama exhibit. The exhibit consists of pieces that draw the eye to not only the sculpture of painting itself, but the images beyond it. In one case, blown glass containers are shown with a mirrored illusion – their number expanded to an unknown amount.

Continuing on through the gallery, the ghostly sound of singing comes through a darkened hallway. The signs cautioning the importance of social distancing become part of the exhibit. 

Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors is the newest installation since the reopening. The room is dark, but the screen holds projected images of musicians, each one on a separate screen, in a separate room. In the middle of the room, it sounds as if all the musicians are together, playing in tandem. 

When moving throughout the room, the feeling of remoteness and isolation begins. Stepping closer to any screen draws out the sounds of that particular musician’s instrument and voice. The musicians were all filmed in the same estate, but in different rooms, to show the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The lead singer sits in a bathtub, strumming his guitar, the bassist stands alone in a study and a woman with an accordion sits barefoot in a long dress, her movements and crooning a familiar feeling of brokenness that goes along with the isolation incurred by a global pandemic. 

Viewers stand still in a socially distanced circle, their heads bowed to the music surrounding them. Aware of each other, but in their own worlds.

Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors features recordings of musicians. (Ashley Fairchild)

Moving towards the literal light, a glass hallway between exhibits looks over the Boston Harbor and the city beyond. The only bathroom available for public use takes space here.

The final gallery is i’m yours: Encounters with Art in Our Times. The collection is a statement on inclusion, with women posing in bras and people of different races and sexual orientations together.

A massive block of sewing needles stands to the right. To the left, a breathtaking hanging installation of “suspected arson,” which appears as a hanging fire. Behind that, skeletal remains are drawn on canvas with children celebrating around it. 

The gallery comes full circle with a handful of other powerful pieces. The viewer is left to sanitize their hands and descend the arrowed stairs to the lobby, where a colorful piece brings one last spark of joy.

Though the museum takes safety precautions seriously, the art remains the centerpiece of the gallery. The signs, stickers and masks fade away and allow art to be seen and felt. 

Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyFairchi14.