The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) announced today the first exhibitions to be presented in its new, 12,700 square-foot space in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles, designed by the architectural firm wHY under the direction of Kulapat Yantrasast. Visitors will be welcomed to this new chapter of the museum with a vivid facade that will feature ICA LA’s logo designed by renowned Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford.
The ICA LA will open to the public on September 9 with Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation, a presentation of work by acclaimed self-taught, Mexican-born artist Martín Ramírez (1895–1963). The exhibition, which will occupy the museum’s main gallery, is part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. In addition, the ICA LA will present new work by New York artist Abigail DeVille in its Project Room and Los Angeles-based painter Sarah Cain will be featured in the museum’s courtyard entrance on 7th Street. DeVille uses found objects and personal materials to create sculptures and installations that address social displacement and cultural erasure. Cain will create a temporary site-specific work that melds the gestures of abstract expressionism with such later styles and techniques as assemblage, 1970s feminist craft, and graffiti.
Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation is organized by ICA LA Executive Director Elsa Longhauser. A long-time champion of Ramírez, Longhauser offered the first solo presentation of his work in 1985 at the Goldie Paley Gallery at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. Now, more than thirty years later, Longhauser is bringing together the first monographic exhibition of the artist’s work to Southern California.
Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation will provide the first comprehensive exploration of Ramírez’s experience as a Mexican migrant laborer during the Great Depression. Ramírez immigrated to California in 1925 to find work that would support his family back in Jalisco, Mexico. Five years later, he was arrested for vagrancy and taken to a mental hospital, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was confined to California state hospitals for three decades, until his death in 1963. In spite of this unbearable hardship, Ramírez produced a body of 450 drawings—collaged from found papers and drawn with matchsticks, crayons, pencils and other makeshift tools. His monumental body of work, consisting of intricate drawings and collages with linear rhythm and spatial tension, have been compared to Wassily Kandinsky, Frank Stella, and Sol LeWitt.
The exhibition will feature approximately fifty works that demonstrate the artist’s rhythmic mark-making and reveal the development of his visual vocabulary. A 17-foot scroll that comprises a glossary of his singular imagery and a visual narrative of his journey from Mexico to California in the 1920s will be on view for the first time. The content of Ramirez’s work speaks to the fluidity of nationality and identity. While the saints and Caballeros that feature prominently in his work demonstrate the endurance of cultural themes, his increasing use of collage images from popular magazines reflect a growing awareness of American culture. Ramírez’s frequent reference to trains and tunnels connect these realms and gives voice to the artist’s transnational identity.
Recent scholarly examinations of Ramírez’s psychiatric evaluations have called his diagnosis and mental illness into question. This exhibition provides an opportunity to recontextualize his life and work and navigate the unsettled territory between outsider and mainstream art. A full-color catalogue, including texts by leading scholars of Mexican history and Mexican American art, will accompany the exhibition.
“ICA LA’s inaugural exhibitions demonstrate our commitment to providing visitors with access to a diverse cross-section of art, presenting emerging artists while also shedding new light on established figures such as Ramírez,” says Longhauser. “Ramírez’s life and art illuminate the many enduring social concerns we face today, including immigration, mass incarceration, economic volatility, national and cultural borders, and the rights of the mentally ill. We hope to spark new conversations around these issues—which resonate so deeply for our community in Downtown Los Angeles—through education initiatives, public programming and neighborhood partnerships.”
ICA LA’s Director of Education and Public Programming Asuka Hisa will collaborate with organizations in the Downtown area to present a robust calendar of related partnerships and initiatives, ranging from hands-on workshops and K-12 school projects to lectures and performances. To ensure wider accessibility, ICA LA intends to produce bilingual (English/Spanish) wall texts, videos, audio tours, and exhibition guides. The full schedule of fall public programs will be announced this summer.
For the opening exhibition in ICA LA’s Project Room, Curator Jamillah James will organize the first Los Angeles solo presentation of Bronx-based multidisciplinary artist Abigail DeVille (b. 1981). Noted for her complex, immersive installations, DeVille’s work touches upon displacement, migration, and cultural invisibility. Deville acts as an archaeologist, gathering found materials and family heirlooms to expose unspoken histories and forgotten pasts. Her work alludes to the production and experience of physical space, particularly for women and people of color, and the perpetuation of social and economic injustice and inequity.
Los Angeles-based painter Sarah Cain (b. 1979) will create a temporary work for ICA LA’s courtyard entrance on 7th Street. Cain’s abstract paintings often flirt with installation, unfolding across walls and floors, uncontained by the frame of the canvas. Recent work incorporates furniture, textiles, jewelry, and found objects as a way to break up the experience of painting as a two-dimensional form. The artist’s vivid, playful patchwork of lines and shapes resist simple definition, recalling styles as diverse as abstract expressionism, graffiti, Pop, and Feminist craft.
Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation is presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.
This exhibition is made possible through grants from the Getty Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation, Robert Lehman Foundation, Madeline and Bruce M. Ramer, Wyeth Foundation for American Art, and the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.