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What Is the Institute of Contemporary Arts?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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The Institute of Contemporary Arts is a London-based art center dedicated to innovative and experimental work. Founded in 1947, the institute moved several times before finding a permanent home in central London in 1968. Perhaps the primary objective of the Institute of Contemporary Arts is to promote challenging, non-traditional art by established and emerging artists working in a number of different media, although some commentators allege that the spirit of innovation in which it was founded was later lost. In addition to its galleries, the institute also features a reading room, a theater, and a bar.

At the time of its 1947 foundation, the Institute of Contemporary Arts was essentially just a group of experimental artists that regularly convened in the basement of a central London theater to discuss art. In 1950, the institute established its first permanent location and exhibition space in a former home of 18th century British naval hero Horatio Nelson. It moved again in 1968, this time to a location which enjoys close proximity to famed London landmarks Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. As of 2011, the institute continues to be based at this location.

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Since its establishment, the goal of the Institute of Contemporary Arts has been to provide a forum for artists to discuss and show work that challenges conventional artistic boundaries. It has promoted work in a wide range of different media, including painting, sculpture, film, performance art, fashion, and music. Over a span of several decades, the institute has exhibited work or featured performances from artists as diverse as painter Jackson Pollack, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, filmmaker Lars von Trier, and punk musicians The Clash. Some critics contend, however, that as of the early 21st century, the institute has shown signs of abandoning its tradition of radicalism and becoming increasingly commercial.

Generally, the Institute of Contemporary Arts is open to members of the public for five days each week. Visitors can take in most of the exhibitions in its galleries free of charge. The institute also features a theater which regularly shows a number of independent and foreign films, as well as a bar that serves both beverages and food. For students and researchers, the institute has a reading room which houses a variety of texts and materials related to experimental art. Those who wish to use the reading room generally must contact the institute to obtain permission prior to their visit.

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