Founded in 1936 as the Boston Museum of Modern Art—a sister institution to New York’s MoMA—the museum was conceived as a laboratory where innovative approaches to art could be championed. The museum established a reputation for identifying important new artists, and in pursuit of this mission, eventually parted ways with MoMA and changed its name to the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1948. As the ICA’s reputation grew around the nation, it paved the way for other institutes and museums of “contemporary art” as well as artists’ spaces and alternative venues.
For more than 75 years, the ICA has presented contemporary art in all media—visual arts, performance, film, video, and literature—and created educational programs that encourage appreciation for contemporary culture. At the close of the 1990s, several innovative programs strengthened the ICA’s public role, including the teen filmmaking program Fast Forward, and ICA/Vita Brevis, whose temporary installations throughout public spaces in Boston drew critical and popular acclaim. In 2006, the ICA opened its visionary new building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, on the Boston waterfront. In its new facility, the ICA has expanded the scope and size of its exhibitions and programs—increasing its audiences tenfold and serving as a catalyst for contemporary art in Boston.
Throughout its history the ICA has been at the fore in identifying and supporting the most important artists of its time and bringing them to public attention. Among the artists whose work has been introduced to U.S. audiences by the ICA are Georges Braque, Oskar Kokoschka, and Edvard Munch. Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Laurie Anderson, and Roy Lichtenstein were each the subject of ICA presentations early in their careers. More recently, the ICA was pivotal in the careers of numerous visual and performing artists including Bill Viola, Kara Walker, Cildo Meireles, Cindy Sherman, Cornelia Parker, Shepard Fairey, Young Jean Lee, Jay Scheib, Trajal Harrell, and Rashaun Mitchell.