Helen Molesworth and the ICA step up to a new level

When the Institute of Contemporary Art hired chief curator Helen Molesworth in 2010, the museum had put together a string of impressive exhibitions showcasing single artists (Anish Kapoor, Tara Donovan, Shepard Fairey, Charles LeDray), but it didn’t seem to have anyone who could put together a powerful Big Idea show.
Molesworth has begun to fulfill the ICA’s aim — described by director Jill Medvedow — to balance monographic shows with exhibitions of historical sweep that “put more historical context around contemporary art.” She started with last fall’s “Dance/Draw,” which traced the origins of today’s performance art in the intersection between dancing and drawing since the ’60s. Now Molesworth has upped the ante and signaled the ICA’s aspirations with “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s,” which opened November 15. It re-examines the whole greed-is-good, pastel-preppy conservative decade through the lenses of feminism, AIDS, rapacious business, and queer culture.

The scope and daring of the exhibit, attempting not just to pursue a Big Idea but also to redefine a whole decade, shows Molesworth — and the ICA — stepping up to a new level. It makes her one of the handful of curators in the country redefining the canon of art of the past half century. What we’re witnessing is someone becoming one of the most influential curators in the nation, and thereby, someone who can reshape the way we think about art and art history.

“It’s a very ambitious show,” says Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight, who reviewed it when it opened in Chicago. “It’s the kind of show that very few art museums even attempt…”

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