London’s ICA celebrates its first permanent digs at what is now Dover Street Market

London’s ICA celebrates its first permanent digs at what is now Dover Street Market

London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts was founded in London in 1946 as an exhibition space and talking shop, a radical and initially itinerant counter-point to the Royal Academy. It moved into its first permanent home on the first floor of 17-18 Dover Street - what is now Comme des Garçon’s fashion emporium Dover Street Market and had once been the home of Horatio Nelson - in 1950, until it transferred to its current site on The Mall in 1968.

This month, the institution prepares for a multi-celebration, with a series of events and exhibitions that pay tribute to its history and the people who were part of it. The catalyst for this is a book, unveiled this week, that looks back at the ICA’s first two decades (and a bit). ’Institute of Contemporary Arts: 1946 - 1968’ is a retrospective gathering of images, original documents and anecdotes by art historian Anne Massey and the ICA executive director Gregor Muir.

Exploring the history of the institution also inspired an exhibition in its original Mayfair HQ. London-based design studio (and Wallpaper* collaborator) Julia was enlisted to stage a friendly take-over of the building, working with the archive material from the ICA’s Dover Street stint to develop a visual history that twists through the store’s six floors. Posters, notes and artwork are scattered around the store’s displays, and the staircase features a typographic timeline of the exhibitions and events through the years in the building.

The book and exhibition narrate an exciting time in the institution’s history: the modernist architect Jane Drew, with a little help from Eduardo Paolozzi and his student Terence Conran, designed the member’s room and it became the maternity suite of Op Art, Pop Art, the Independent Group and Brutalist architecture, among other things. Artists, architects and writers met in the space, which also hosted the first London exhibition of Jackson Pollock and the first institutional solo show of Francis Bacon’s work.

A key character resurfacing from the ICA’s history is British artist Richard Hamilton, an important figure in the early days of establishment and on the British artistic panorama. Hamilton was a driving force for the book’s creation, having been involved with the ICA in an all-encompassing manner since 1950 - his contributions ranged from setting up exhibitions to curating shows - and his relationship with the ICA and its members was key to his artistic career.

A young Richard Hamilton worked on the very first installation at Dover Street and two of his later Dover Street installations, ’Man, Machine and Motion’ (1955) and ’An Exhibit’ (1957) are now being shown at the ICA to neatly coincide with the major retrospective that the Tate Modern (which is also home to the ICA’s Richard Hamilton archives) is dedicating to his work.

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