The ICA has invaded London shopping venue Dover Street Market for the latest instalment in its ‘Off-Site’ series of events. Designed by Julia, the show offers a fascinating look at some rarely seen material from the Institute’s archives.
Dover Street Market now houses luxury clothing and accessories but between 1950 and 1968, it was home to the ICA and is allegedly the birthplace of op art, pop art and brutalist architecture.
The venue hosted some of ICA’s best known shows, including exhibitions by Lucian Freud, Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and was a regular meeting place of the Independent Group, whose members included Richard Hamilton, Eduardo Paolozzi and the architect Peter Smithson.
The exhibition was launched this week to coincide with a Hamilton retrospective at the ICA and Tate Modern and the release of a new book, Institute of Contemporary Arts: 1946-1968. Until April, each of Dover Street Market’s six floors will feature large scale photographs, posters and imagery produced during the ICA’s 18-year tenure there, including ICA Bulletin covers, Francis Bacon’s first ever show covers and posters for various exhibitions held at the site.
ICA executive director Gregor Muir came up with the idea for the exhibition after discovering an old poster bearing the address 17-18 Dover Street. After exploring the ICA archives, he discovered more ephemera dating back to the institute’s stay there and asked London agency Julia to design an exhibition using the rarely seen material.
As the site is now home to a busy shop, Julia had to work within the existing furniture and layout, but the agency has done a fantastic job of ‘invading’ the space while remaining sensitive to its interior.
“It wasn’t easy at first – the site is already very busy and full of work by a lot of designers, and we were adding another layer of business on top of that,” says Julia co-founder Erwan Lhuissier. “In the end, we think the work we’ve made integrates with the store pretty well, but there were a lot of situations where we had to adapt to suit the existing layout,” he explains.
Key to this was visiting the site with the company responsible for printing the large scale artworks to determine exactly what could be put where, says Lhuissier. “We had to strike that balance between placing the images where they would have maximum impact and hiding some behind furniture to create a kind of narrative through the building,” he says.
Dover Street Market regularly hosts art and design installations, but the ICA’s is the first to take over every floor of the building. “[Dover Street Market and the ICA] pretty much gave us carte blanche, which was nice, and we had a lot of freedom to add extra elements such as an ICA timeline on the staircase, which provides some context for the show,” says Lhuissier. “What’s great is that it appeals to two audiences – the people who have visited Dover Street Market to shop and those who are interested in the ICA,” he adds.
As the show has been launched to tie in with Hamilton’s retrospective, Julia has made references to the artist throughout, such as in the use of black and red graphics, colours which Hamilton often used. ICA shows from the fifties and sixties also provided inspiration for the positioning of images.
“We looked at a lot of shows that were hosted in the space and the artists often used to hang things horizontally, vertically, or from the ceiling. We wanted to reference this and also reflect the idea of an invasion – having things on the ceilings and floors instead of hanging in frames,” adds Lhuissier.
The show is one of several Off-Site events staged by the ICA since last summer. In September, it launched a journey through London’s sub culture in the basement of the Old Selfridges Hotel, which featured 56 vitrines of art, fashion, design and memorabilia produced by London creatives over four decades – you can read our blog post on it here.
The latest show provides a glimpse into a seminal period in the ICA’s history and Julia has done an excellent job of designing the space.
ICA Off-Site is open at Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover Street, London, W1S 4LT until April 6 – see ica.org.uk for details.