Wolfgang Tillmanns on the excitement of ICA: ‘It’s underground, progressive and really late-licensing’ | Wolfgang Tillmanns

In 1994, young German photographer Wolfgang Tillmanns He was visiting the ICA in London with his parents when he was struck by the power of art. “I took them to the Charles Ray Gallery, and there was Statue of a father, mother and child of the same height, which makes these kids very scary giants. My mother was very upset, I suppose, because she had shaken her sense of the order of things. I will never forget her.”

Nearly 28 years later, Tillmans has become a famous artist – his retrospective Let’s look without fear He currently occupies an entire floor at MoMA in New York – and since 2019 has been Head of ICAboard. While its remit is still at the forefront of parenting’s disturbing art, the institution, located a short distance from Buckingham Palace, is short of funds and struggling to reassert its identity after the pandemic, which in addition to forcing temporary closures has drastically reduced the numbers of people arriving. to the West End.

“For the Connoisseur”: Robert Joubert’s House of the Rat. Photo: Sotheby’s

Tillmans believes that the ICA needs to “educate people that this spot is in the most famous place in London that is underground and progressive and also has a really late licence.” To this end, it has appointed Benji Unsal As Director of the ICA, and former Head of Contemporary Music at Southbank Center, he is responsible for the popular annual Meltdown Festivals. She replaced Stefan Kalmar, who during his five years in office ran a program focused on the visual arts.

Tillmans says Unsall’s goal is to promote ICA’s live performances, while emphasizing that the venue is multidisciplinary (in addition to a gallery and performance space, it includes an art cinema, which is increasingly rare in London) and in doing so, “to put ICA Once again on a sustainable basis with a new mix of programming that brings back evening audiences, revitalizes the tape and uses the late licensing we have.”

ICA receives 21% of its funding from Arts Council England (which was £862,441 last year), but Tillmans says “there is a shortfall every year”. He hopes that Unsal’s programs – which include club nights running until 6 a.m. and a partnership with ticket app Dice – will attract crowds that will make ICA self-funded: “That’s the point.” Onsal has experience making an art organization self-financed through sponsorships, brand partnerships and ticket sales alone when she was head of the IKSV Salon in Istanbul, which has never received any public funds.

Raymond Pettibone Untitled (Whatever You Are...), part of the ICA Auction.
Raymond Pettibone Untitled (Whatever You Are…), part of the ICA Auction. Photography: Keri McFate/Sotheby’s

To fill the funding gap at ICA until the start of the Ünsal plan, Tillmans organized an auction that will take place at Sotheby’s on October 15. Artists with links to the ICA including Tacita Dean, Richard Prince and Anish Kapoor have contributed work: Tillmans hopes the sale will raise at least £1.5 million. “Some of the works are so prominent that we might make more than it would be an absolute lifesaver, because the State of the Arts funding is terrible, and this government is not going to expand it.” Two of his favorite pictures are a large picture of a surfer on a wave by Raymond Pettibone, valued at between £200,000 and £300,000, and a sculpture called Rat Bite from a 1992 installation by Robert Guber. “He’s definitely a connoisseur,” says Tillmans – and his best bet is between £80,000 and £120,000.

This year, ICA held an art exhibition for sex workers called Decriminalized futures contractsWhich Duly denounced by Mail on Sunday – something that would have given a glow of nostalgia to those who remembered the rage inspired by the famous offending ICA performances of the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Nuebauten (who performed at their 1984 concert Destroy the place using drills). Hosted the exhibition last summer Inna Babylon warwhich examined the history of anti-racist activism at Tottenham, and its timing to coincide with the tenth anniversary of his death Mark DugganHe was shot by police in the north London borough.

Such exhibitions are the shape of things to come, Tillmans says: “That’s the plan, to have a year-long exhibition focused on London’s underrepresented communities or that have suffered injustices in the past. The Ina-Babylon War was a huge success.”

Stafford Scott of the Tottenham Rights team participated in War Inna Babylon: The Community's Struggle for Facts and Rights at ICA last year.
Stafford Scott of the Tottenham Rights team participated in War Inna Babylon: The Community’s Struggle for Facts and Rights at ICA last year. Photo: Tim B Whitby/Getty Images for the Institute of Contemporary Arts

However, to some eyes, it seemed more like social history than art. The question is, is this art? “It is often thrown into avant-garde activity or exhibitions that explore community events,” Tillmans counters. “Artistic expression and the liberation of people always go hand in hand – they cannot be divided.”

He cites the artist’s upcoming ICA show Christopher Colendran Thomas. “On the one hand, it is about the defeated revolutionary struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, with which it is associated, but on the other hand, it is a very engaging, high-tech film that uses technology not really seen in the UK. It was one of our most ambitious productions ever. he is [the ICA] Trying to work at the highest visual level while providing important relevant content.”

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