Institute of Contemporary Arts
Institute of Contemporary Arts is located in Central London
Institute of Contemporary Arts
Location within Central London
LocationThe Mall, London
(offices in Carlton House Terrace)
Coordinates51°30′24″N 0°07′50″W / 51.506608°N 0.13061°W / 51.506608; -0.13061
DirectorBengi Unsal
Public transit accessLondon Underground Charing Cross
National Rail Charing Cross

The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) is an artistic and cultural centre on The Mall in London, just off Trafalgar Square. Located within Nash House, part of Carlton House Terrace, near the Duke of York Steps and Admiralty Arch, the ICA contains galleries, a theatre, two cinemas, a bookshop and a bar.


The ICA was founded by Roland Penrose, Peter Watson, Herbert Read, Peter Gregory,[1] Geoffrey Grigson and E. L. T. Mesens in 1946.[2] The ICA's founders intended to establish a space where artists, writers and scientists could debate ideas outside the traditional confines of the Royal Academy. The model for establishing the ICA was the earlier Leeds Arts Club, founded in 1903 by Alfred Orage, of which Herbert Read had been a leading member. Like the ICA, this too was a centre for multi-disciplinary debate, combined with avant-garde art exhibition and performances, within a framework that emphasised a radical social outlook.[3]

The first two exhibitions at the ICA, 40 Years of Modern Art and 40,000 Years of Modern Art, were organised by Penrose, and reflected his interests in Cubism and African art, taking place in the basement of the Academy Cinema, 165 Oxford Street. The Academy Cinema building included the Pavilion, a restaurant, and the Marquee ballroom in the basement; the building was managed by George Hoellering, the film, jazz and big band promoter.[4] In 1968 Jasia Reichardt curated the exhibition on computer generated art and music: Cybernetic Serendipity at the ICA.

With the acquisition of 17 Dover Street, Piccadilly, in May 1950, the ICA was able to expand considerably. Ewan Phillips served as the first director. It was the former residence of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. The gallery, clubroom and offices were refurbished by modernist architect Jane Drew assisted by Neil Morris and Eduardo Paolozzi. Paolozzi decorated the bar area and designed a metal and concrete table with student Terence Conran.[5]

Ewan Phillips left in 1951, and Dorothy Morland was asked to take over temporarily, but stayed there as director for 18 years, until the move to the more spacious Nash House.[6] The critic Reyner Banham acted as assistant Director during the early 1950s, followed by Lawrence Alloway during the mid- to later 1950s. In its early years, the Institute organised exhibitions of modern art including Picasso and Jackson Pollock. A Georges Braque exhibition was held at the ICA in 1954. The first woman to exhibit there was Fahrelnissa Zeid in 1956. It also launched Pop art, Op art, and British Brutalist art and architecture. The Independent Group met at the ICA in 1952–1962/63 and organised several exhibitions, including This Is Tomorrow.

Institute of Contemporary Arts

With the support of the Arts Council, the ICA moved to its current site at Nash House in 1968. For a period during the 1970s the institute was known for its often anarchic programme and administration. Norman Rosenthal, then director of exhibitions, was once assaulted by a group of people who were living in the upper floors of the building: a bloodstain on the wall of the administrative offices is preserved under glass, with a note reading "this is Normans's blood". Rosenthal claims the group which assaulted him included the actor Keith Allen.[7]

Bill McAllister was ICA Director from 1977 to 1990, when the Institute developed a system of separate departments specializing in visual art; cinema; and theatre, music and performance art. A fourth department was devoted to talks and lectures. Iwona Blazwick was Director of Exhibitions from 1986 to 1993. Other notable curatorial and programming staff have included Lisa Appignanesi (deputy director of ICA and Head of Talks, 1980–90), James Lingwood (Exhibition Curator, 1986–90), Michael Morris (Director of Theatre), Lois Keidan, (Director of Live Arts, 1992–97), Catherine Ugwu, MBE (deputy director of Live Arts, 1991–97), Tim Highsted (deputy director of Cinema, 1988–95) and Jens Hoffmann (Director of Exhibitions, 2003–07).

Mik Flood took over as director of the ICA in 1990 after McAllister's resignation. Flood announced that the Institute would have to leave its Mall location and move to a larger site, a plan that ultimately came to nothing.[8] He also oversaw a sponsorship scheme whereby the electrical goods company Toshiba paid to have their logo included on every piece of ICA publicity for three years, and in effect changed the name of the ICA to ICA/Toshiba.[9] He was replaced as Director in 1997 by Philip Dodd. In 2002, the then ICA Chairman Ivan Massow criticised what he described as "concept art", leading to his resignation.[10]

Following the departure of Dodd, the ICA appointed Ekow Eshun as artistic director in 2005.[11] Under Eshun's directorship the Live Arts Department was closed down in 2008, the charge for admission for non-members was abandoned (resulting in a reduction of membership numbers and a cash shortfall), the Talks Department lost all its personnel, and many commentators argued that the Institute suffered from a lack of direction.[12] A large financial deficit led to redundancies and resignations of key staff. Art critic JJ Charlesworth saw Eshun’s directorship as a direct cause of the ICA's ills; criticizing Eshun's reliance on private sponsorship, his cultivation of a "cool" ICA brand, and his focus on a cross-disciplinary approach that was put in place "at the cost", Charlesworth wrote "of a loss of curatorial expertise."[13] Problems between staff and Eshun, sometimes supported by the Chairman of the ICA Board, Alan Yentob, led to fractious and difficult staff relations.[14] Eshun resigned in August 2010, and Yentob announced he would leave.[15][16]

In January 2011, the ICA appointed as its Executive Director Gregor Muir, who took up his post on 7 February 2011.[17] Muir stepped down in 2016 and was replaced by former Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár.[18]

Notable exhibitions, talks, film festivals and music events


Membership of the ICA is available to the general public. The ICA is constituted as a private limited company and registered charity, run by a 13-member Board and led by a Director.

ICA Directors

See also


  1. ^ Jane Drew to The Times, 14 February 1959.
  2. ^ "About". ICA. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  3. ^ Nannette Aldred, 'A sufficient Flow of Vital Ideas: Herbert Read and the Flow of Ideas from the Leeds Arts Club to the ICA' in Michael Paraskos (ed.) Re-Reading Read: New Views on Herbert Read (London: Freedom Press, 2008) p. 70.
  4. ^ Allen Eyles, "Cinemas & Cinemagoing: Art House & Repertory" Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, BFI Screenonline.
  5. ^ Massey, A. (1995). The Independent Group: modernism and mass culture in Britain, 1945-59. Manchester (England): Manchester University Press.
  6. ^ Sile Flower, Jean Macfarlane, Ruth Plant, Jane B. Drew, architect: A tribute from her colleagues and friends for her 75th birthday 24 March 1986, p. 23. Bristol: Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture, 1986, ISBN 0-9510759-0-X.
  7. ^ Hattenstone, Simon (25 November 2002). "I'm a lucky bugger". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 5 March 2017.
  8. ^ Nowicka, Helen; Welch, Jilly (12 August 1994). "ICA to quit Mall for big river complex". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 18 March 2017.
  9. ^ Chin-Tao Wu, Privatising culture: corporate art intervention since the 1980s, Verso, 2003, p. 145.
  10. ^ Gibbons, Fiachra (17 January 2002). "Concept art is pretentious tat, says ICA chief". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 18 March 2017.
  11. ^ Alberge, Dalya (10 March 2005). "ICA appoints the first black gallery director". The Times. London.
  12. ^ "Should we let the ICA die". The Times. London. 28 January 2010. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011.
  13. ^ Milliard, Coline. "London ICA Director Ekow Eshun Submits His Resignation | BLOUIN ARTINFO". Archived from the original on 31 March 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  14. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (23 January 2010). "ICA warns staff it could close by May". The Guardian. London.
  15. ^ Edemariam, Aida (27 August 2010). "Ekow Eshun and Alan Yentob to quit after ICA survives crisis". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 7 August 2015.
  16. ^ Edemariam, Aida (28 August 2010). "Ekow Eshun: 'It's been a tough year...'". The Guardian. London.
  17. ^ Brown, Mark (11 January 2011). "Gregor Muir to be new ICA chief". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 7 April 2015.
  18. ^ Brown, Mark (19 September 2016). "Stefan Kalmár appointed as new director of the ICA". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 18 March 2017. In March 2022, the ICA appointed its recent Director Bengi Unsal, previously the Head of Contemporary Music at Southbank Centre.
  19. ^ Kelly, Mary. "Post-Partum Document". Mary Kelly. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  20. ^ Nairne, Sandy (1908). Women's Images of Men. London: ICA. ISBN 0-905263-07-3.
  21. ^ Elwes, Catherine (1980). About Time: Video, Performance and Installation by 21 Women Artists. London: ICA. ISBN 0-905263-08-1.
  22. ^ Lippard, Lucy (1980). Issue: Social Strategies by Women Artists. London: ICA. ISBN 0-905263-09-X.
  23. ^ Hardy, Dennis (2004). Arcadia for All: The Legacy of a Makeshift Landscape. Five Leaves. pp. 301 and 304. ISBN 0907123597.
  24. ^ Shenton, Mark. "Death and the Maiden". The Stage. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  25. ^ "Are Fetishistic Practices Politically Radical". British Library Sound Archive. Archived from the original on 19 February 2014. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  26. ^ Haye, Christian. "Just an Illusion". frieze. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  27. ^ "fig-futures". fig-futures. Archived from the original on 17 April 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  28. ^ "ICA | FRAMES of REPRESENTATION 2020".
  29. ^ "ICA | Image Behaviour". Archived from the original on 2 March 2020.
  30. ^ Solomon, Tessa (10 August 2021). "ICA London Director to Step Down, Citing Need to 'Hand Over to the Next Generation'". ARTNews.