I’m not normally given to nostalgia, but entering ICP’s new quarters on Essex Street (except the main entrance is on Ludlow) I found myself yearning for ICP’s earlier incarnations, especially its midtown space.
To begin with, ICP’s front door is nearly invisible from the street. And its long, narrow, first-floor lobby looks more like an unfinished concrete tunnel than anything remotely resembling a place of welcome or – god forbid – beauty.
I arrived opening week and the place was not yet finished – elevators weren’t working, classrooms and library still being put together, people behind the desk befuddled. All temporary issues, still, less than reassuring.
The best thing to say about the stairs is that it provides a great narrow-slice-of life image. Oh, and watch the bottom step, it’s higher than the others.
Technically, there are four exhibitions but almost all of ICP’s large two-story space is devoted to “Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop,” an import from the West Coast. I’m not going to quarrel with the subject matter but I am going to quarrel with its images. They may be of historic interest but few are of visual interest. I understand that ICP is trying to attract a hip, younger audience but I think this show is unworthy of a photography museum. It could just as easily be the focus of an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society or the Museum of New York.
However, this inaugural show does include images from its permanent collection. Appropriately, given ICPs new location, it has culled 40 black and white prints focused on “The Lower East Side.” Some are familiar, some less so. Among my favorites is an image by the Hungarian-born photographer Arnold Eagle, of two school-age children standing next to a sign advertising “Rooms: Bath, Hot Water Supply, White Sinks.”
Glamour, power, technical wizardry – this and more are part of two other inaugural exhibitions that I found less than enthralling: one by Tyler Mitchell, a fashion photographer, who has a large following on Instagram, plus clips from a 1970s film “Warriors,” which digitally inserts a visitor’s face into the movie.
The museum is directly across the street from the spanking new, three-story Essex Street Market. You can buy dinner, have dinner or just stop for a cup of coffee. Definitely worth a visit.
All photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag