Subscribe Today!

ICA’s new shows–Tyng, videos, Boyle & Duke


The search for a single unifying principle–a mathematical formula, or the atom, or God–is the sort of romantic obsession that underlies the Institute of Contemporary Art exhibit Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry.

Anne Tyng’s double helix installation

The exhibit is spare, with some small architectural models and some enormous geometrical forms large enough to step into–all below an enormous hanging double-helix, spiraling around the overhead gallery. Entering into the space is dramatic and physical. In contrast, Tyng herself is a tiny nonagenarian, erect in comfortable pants topped by a shawl.

Large forms based on Tyng’s drawings of Platonic solids dominate the gallery space.

You may or may not be aware of Tyng, a Philadelphia architect whose presence in the popular culture is mostly tied to her role as Louis Kahn’s mistress. This exhibit aims to correct this wrong. Her ideas about geometric forms and her collaborations with Louis Kahn were groundbreaking. As was typical in the ’50s and ’60s, the man took all the credit for what was truly collaborative work; and Tyng’s ideas had a life-long influence on his later work, as well as on architecture theory.

Paperbag Drawing
Anne Tyng, notes and sketches for ICA installation, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

The groundbreaking nature of Tyng’s mathematical and geometrical approach is confirmed in letters (one from Buckminster Fuller, in case you’re thinking, Big deal, how’s this different from a geodesic dome?) and displayed in numeric calculations, drawings and architectural models–all drawn from the University of Pennsylvania’s architectural archives.

Anne Tyng, Four Poster House. In the background is a model of the house’s framework.

The elegance of the small models, also drawn from the archives, is equally convincing. My favorite, The Four-Poster House, is shown in four phases of construction, in which each of the geometric layers adds to the strength and beauty of the first core layer.

In an art world that’s enamored with Fibonacci sequences and obsessive drawing practices, Tyng’s architectural explorations look perfectly at home.

Open Video Call

Jeroen Nelemans, How to disappear Completely, 2008, video, color, sound, 3:02 minutes. A faux sunset.

Also at the ICA, Open Video Call is a loop of 11 videos, many of them from new faces (to me), and all of them worth some time. The theme of real and not real weaves through all the selections, from Alex DaCorte’s playful and troubling special effects in Chelsea Hotel to tiona.m’s politically loaded but exuberant Americanly Speaking. Performance kicks in with Ted Cary’s a jackhammer is so real (it was in Vox’s Solid Gold show in 2008) and Leslie Rogers’ The Meeting. There’s also a lot of virtual landscape here, including two from Lee Arnold (these would have looked better larger) and one brief one from Jeroen Nelemans. Also in the selections are work by Ted Knighton, Jared Dyer, Lindsey Martin, and Sam Belkowitz with Tyler Kline (beautiful but kind of long). A national call followed the original Philadelphia call for submissions, but the jurors–Claire Iltis, (Fleisher/Ollman Gallery), Kate Kraczon (ICA), Jesse Pires (International House Philadelphia); and Adelina Vlas (Philadelphia Museum of Art)–stuck pretty close to their original choices, Kraczon mentioned opening night. So it’s 10 from Philadelphia, and only one from out of town–Chicago artist Nelemans.

The Illuminations Project

Soldiers Arent Afraid of Blood
Shary Boyle, Soldiers Aren’t Afraid of Blood, 2005, ink and gouache on paper, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

In the Project Room, Shary Boyle & Emily Duke’s The Illuminations Project explores feminist rage and vulnerability amid male cruelty and mysogyny through a series of drawings by Boyle paired with text by Duke. The long-distance, multi-year collaboration interested me, and Boyle’s drawings are stunningly beautiful with jewel-like colors. The images are the female counterpart to Hernan Bas–only better.

Shary Boyle, I Want to be Afraid of Nature, 2003, ink and gouache on paper, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

But for all its beauty, I had a mixed reaction to this. The 21st century visceral rage of the piece is weakened by overused conventions–the outpourings of menstrual blood, wolf-pack male cruelty, pro-forma witchery and pretentious archaic locutions.

This exhibit in this space is in keeping with an overall sense of new work and new people breaking down the barricades to redefine art. The video is fresh. Anne Tyng is a long-overdue reconsideration. And Illuminations, organized by ICA’s 2010-2011 Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow Virginia Solomon, brings in a distinctly female queer viewpoint.

The three shows are up through March 20, 2011.
Held over through Feb. 13 are Virgil Marti’s wonderful, theatrical Set Pieces (objects selected from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s storage), and also the hot-button David Wojnarowicz video ejected from the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek show.