San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park and Lux Art Institute in Encinitas will become the ICA San Diego, opening this fall with site-responsive work by Mexican artist Gabriel Rico.
The Lux Art Institute in Encinitas and San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park will soon join forces, creating a new and experimental Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) San Diego that aims to "question everything."
"We've had to rethink everything about our lives, about who we are, how we do things and, ultimately, what we're doing is we're questioning ourselves and we're questioning how we're doing things," said Andrew Utt, the incoming executive director for the new organization and current executive director of Lux Art Institute.
The merger was not necessitated by the pandemic, but it made sense during this heightened time of collaboration and adaptation, Utt said.
"Oftentimes creativity is perceived as something that artists do and that's just who they are. Ultimately, when we incorporate that creativity into everything that we do, not just creating art, but how we run businesses and organizations, how we reach the public, how we engage with people, how we communicate like this over a virtual sphere, any sort of interaction that we have with the world around us, we have to be creative about it," Utt said.
San Diego Art Institute was founded in Balboa Park in 1941 as the "San Diego Business Men's Art Club." It cycled through a few locations (and name improvements) until landing its current spot just across from the Plaza de Panama in 1996. They claim to be the only solely contemporary cultural institution inside Balboa Park.
Nestled in the hills and canyons of Encinitas, Lux Art Institute began taking shape decades after SDAI, in the late 1990s. In 2007, they opened their current main gallery space. Their vision is to share with audiences the artistic process more than the artistic product. It's an educational model, centering around artist residencies throughout the year, partnerships with regional artists, and community and youth education programs.
Opening in September 2021, the combined spaces of ICA San Diego will total 15,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space in Balboa Park (ICA Central) and Encinitas (ICA North), and upwards of six acres of outdoor space.
All current staff of both organizations will remain. Lux currently employs 10 full-time employees and an average of 15 part-time employees depending on the time of year, and SDAI is operating in a transitional model with a staff of three. They hope to hire more soon.
"In order for San Diego as a region to become part of this globally recognized art world, which can often seem very distant to even artists in our region — for us to do that we have to work collectively," Utt said.
As a unified art organization, Utt said they want to help bring internationally regarded artists in, to engage with the region, as well as help local artists build possibilities out into the world. And he also wants to challenge and broaden audiences and artists.
"What contemporary art means is very broad, you know. We all have ideas about what is art and what can be art — we want to break those traditional boundaries immediately."
The inaugural exhibition will be a solo show of work by contemporary Mexican artist Gabriel Rico.
Rico, who spoke to KPBS from Mexico City, said that when he arrives in San Diego to create work and build this exhibition this summer, he will connect with a broad range of scientific and cultural institutions and communities to understand the community and place here, then allow the art to take shape.
"We are not too different, from Mexico to the United States. We share air, water. We share a very precise geography in some points," Rico said. "I’d really like to start talking about the natural conditions of the region and then I can continue with the socio-cultural situation. So of course it’s too soon to have completely defined the show."
His work is conceptual while also being hyper focused on objects — the philosophical and relational nature of objects and materials, and how in object-oriented ontology the material world is defined by objects.
"You can define a period of time just with one object. For example, a Coca-Cola bottle. If you see a Coca-Cola bottle you can define a precise space-time situation, just because before a certain point in time it’s known that the humans cannot have the capacity to manipulate or create glass. Another example is a CD or USB port," Rico said. With those precise points in space and time, he added, you can construct a history. "Or, in my case I construct pieces of art."
This manifests in Rico's work as assemblages of objects, materials and ideas, sometimes including things ranging from taxidermy to natural materials to technological relics, marking a precise time and place, a sort of anthropology.
Contemporary art, Rico said, is just a concept, meaning art that is being made in a specific time. "This doesn't mean you can't mix ancient techniques with new technologies, that's an important part of contemporary art."
Utt said that for their inaugural artist, they wanted someone binational who would fit ICA San Diego's experimental vision, and someone who is already working on themes of the environment, which is their first season's focus.
Gabriel Rico's exhibition will open Sept. 24, 2021 through Jan 23, 2022 at the Balboa Park location, and will include a component of social practice and bringing his work into the community.
In the lead up to Rico's exhibition and the official opening of the space, Lux and SDAI will continue to host planned residencies, exhibitions and educational programming through the summer.