In September, two San Diego-area art spaces, the San Diego Art Institute and the Lux Art Institute, will combine to form a new organization, the Institute of Contemporary Art, San Diego. The executive director of the new ICA, San Diego will be Andrew Utt, who has served as the executive director of Lux since June 2019. The ICA will begin a year of thematic programming responding to the environment with the first California solo show by Mexican conceptual artist Gabriel Rico, whose installation will bring together man-made and natural materials coalescing into “a radical vision of this delicate point of human life,” according to a press release. The new organization will keep both exhibition spaces, one in Encinitas and one in Balboa Park with a combined 15,000 square feet of gallery space, as well as branching out beyond the confines of the institution.
“The mission for the organization is to question everything,” Utt told Hyperallergic. “What if we don’t have a white space, or can’t get there, or are intimidated? How do we think outside our walls? Our vision is to be everywhere and for everyone. The two spaces, that experience will never go away, but we have other ways of engaging with art and ideas. We see them as a jumping-off point.”
Utt says the merger came from his desire for collaboration with other art institutions as director of Lux. He reached out to the Art Institute about partnering, specifically to revive their artist residency program. “They were super excited about it, got funding, then Covid happened. All that got thrown out the door,” he explained, “but we continued to have the desire and need for partnering. I proposed to the director of the Institute, ‘How about we come together as one organization?’”
The boards of both institutions agreed to consolidate, and with a grant from the Sahm Family Foundation making the merger possible, the ICA, San Diego was born. According to Utt, staff from both institutions will be retained, though last summer, prior to the merger decision, the board of the Art Institute chose not to renew the contract of its then director, Jacqueline Silverman.
The ICA, San Diego will present three exhibitions at a time. Balboa Park’s Mission Revival-style building — dubbed ICA Central — will host solo and group exhibitions, including Rico’s which opens on September 24, while the Encinitas location — ICA North — will be dedicated to shows of artists-in-residence and regional artists. Lux has held an artists’ residency at its bucolic six-acre coastal site since 2007. As ICA North, it will also focus on site-specific projects throughout the area.
Opening on August 21, the first exhibition at ICA North will showcase Christine Howard Sandoval, an artist of Obispeño Chumash and Hispanic ancestry who investigates contested histories of representation, land use, and ecology, through sculpture, video, and performance. Following Sandoval’s show, ICA North will host shows by New York-based media artist Marina Zurkow, and Mexico-City born conceptual artist Minerva Cuevas. Leading up to the ICA’s opening, Lux will round out its exhibition program with shows from sculptor Beatriz Cortez, painter Amir Fallah, and Baseera Khan who investigates the messy, often violent intersections of culture, identity, and capitalism.
For Utt, who organized exhibitions in Colombia and Argentina before helming Lux, San Diego’s status as a border town with a rich Latinx history is central to the new ICA’s identity and mission. “San Diego’s population is 34% Latino. There are a lot of people who live in Tijuana and work in the US. It’s the most trafficked border in the world,” he said. “Bi-national identity, and trans-border identity, has a very long history here. It’s important for us to be a part of that.” According to the press release, the ICA, San Diego will have a multilingual website by late summer.
The two organizations merging to form the new ICA have played significant roles in San Diego’s artistic development, with very different histories. The San Diego Art Institute was founded in 1941 as the San Diego Business Men’s Art Club, offering membership to women in 1953. It has been dedicated to promoting cultural equity in the region, and has exhibition space dedicated to artists from Southern California and Northern Baja. Lux Art Institute was founded in 1998 with the goal of educating the public about the arts and allowing them to see artists working in a studio context.
The past year has been incredibly trying for arts organizations across the county, as pandemic lockdowns have put financial pressure on small arts nonprofits and legacy museums alike. But as Utt describes, the silver lining may be in finding new ways to experience and present art to the public. “This is a great opportunity for us to evolve and become more aligned with what’s happening with the world, to engage with people in new and creative ways,” he said. “It’s a new beginning.”