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Form over Function? A family visit to ICA Boston


We were elated when we learned that the newly built Institute of Contemporary Art would be free for families on the last Saturday of every month. Matt and I have long believed that major museums should invite the public to enjoy and appreciate art for free on a regular basis, if not every day. The Museum of Fine Arts does offer some free events (unfortunately I couldn't find any info about it on the mfa website at the time of writing this post). Plenty of other major art museums have an open door policy (free or "suggested donation" admission), either on weekends, or every day, below are just a couple of our favorites:
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Getty Museum

The ICA has been under construction for a couple of years, so we've eagerly anticipated its opening for a long time. So today we packed our diaper bag, threw the double stroller in the car, and headed over to the harbor to finally visit the much-heralded new museum.

With its re-opening, the ICA has become a collecting institution, and this first exhibit showcases many of the artists whose work has been recently acquired by the museum. We were really excited to see a whole gallery room dedicated to Matt's MassArt classmate Kelly Sherman. Kelly was the last person on the dance floor at our most outrageous prom party in 2000. Kelly is in good company, her work exhibited shoulder to shoulder with Cornelia Parker, Yoko Ono, Nan Goldin, Rineke Dijkstra, and other luminaries of our time.

The glass-walled Founders Gallery on the fourth floor was a beautiful space, and probably the most popular stop for both of our boys.
Another favorite for Ollie was the glass-encased elevator, with its mechanical aparatus visible through it's protective glass case:
I was pleased to learn that the cafeteria serves Pete's Coffee, and the food is catered by Wolfgang Puck. I enjoyed my BLT but Matt thought it was lacking a little oomph... I suppose it was a little small, but at least it was fresh and the potato salad that came with it was delicious!
Popcorn is always a sure bet for Ollie, but he decided to jazz his up with a little extra pepper.

Most of all, today we were really looking forward to experiencing the building that houses the ICA. We've seen plenty of pictures of the metalic Z-shaped building cantilevered out over the harbor and encased in glass - and envisioned a wonderfully open and bright complex where we could not only enjoy some of the most cutting edge contemporary art being produced today, but also enjoy walking about and experiencing a thought-provoking built environment.

The building is indeed gorgeous. But walking with a stroller (perhaps similar to travelling by wheelchair) has a way of making all of the shortcomings of a building very apparent, and can seriously impact one's enjoyment of a place. By far the most disappointing aspect of the new ICA was its accessibility. From the outside, the approach to the entrance is not clearly marked, and there appears to be no walkway or driveway of any sort that takes visitors right to the doors.
On the inside, everything is much smaller than we imagined. Doors, aisles, and public thoroughfares are astonishingly narrow, making for difficult passage to the restroom, cafeteria ordering window, and even from one gallery to the next. Perhaps the building isn't completely finished yet, but we couldn't help noticing that the elevator lacked any sort of signage telling us which floors were open and what they held.