ICP’s New Downtown Museum on Essex Street

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. 

Contact High

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.  

The Greatest Day in Hip-Hop History
Video and Still Images of Biggie Smalls
Tupac Shakur by Danny Clinch
Biggie Smalls Freestyle Video
Roxanne Shante by Lawrence Watson
Overview of Main Exhibition Space
Visitor at the Exhibition
The Pharsyde Los Angeles, 1992 – Mark Humphrey
New York Life from the Series “One Third of a Nation” by Arnold Eagle, 1936  

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.”  

Tyler Mitchell’s Pictures on Fabric

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. 

Exterior, Essex Street Market
Interior, Essex Street Market

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

About Eleanor Foa Dienstag (36 Articles)
Eleanor Foa Dienstag is a veteran author, journalist, photo-journalist and award-winning corporate writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, the New Republic, the New York Observer, Ms., Travel & Leisure, and many other websites and publications. Eleanor is the author of three books. Her most recent, available on Amazon and Centro Primo Levi is MIXED MESSAGES: Reflections on an Italian Jewish Family and Exile. It is a multi-layered memoir about Eleanor’s personal journey, her father’s exile from Fascist Italy and the Foa Family journey, whose Italian-Jewish roots go back to the 1500s in northern Italy where her ancestors were famous printers. WHITHER THOU GOEST: The Story of an Uprooted Wife, also a memoir, was acclaimed by Business Week for its insights into corporate life. Her third book, In Good Company: 125 Years At The Heinz Table, offered a unique view of a quintessential American company. Eleanor served as staff speechwriter to the Chairman and CEO of American Express. In 1983, she founded Eleanor Foa Associates (www.eleanorfoa.com). It provides a wide variety of corporate writing and marketing services. Eleanor is past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), received speechwriting awards from IABC, and was awarded literary residencies at Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). She resides in Manhattan.