A venerable New York City cultural institution is just about ready to swing open the doors of its new home on the Lower East Side. The International Center of Photography (ICP) debuts an 11,000 square foot exhibition space at 250 Bowery on Thursday.
At the same time, ICP opens Public, Private, Secret, the organization’s first show in the new museum. Reporters were invited over to the galleries yesterday for a preview (we’ll have a separate story on the exhibition tomorrow). While there, we spoke with Mark Lubell, ICP’s executive director about the big move.
After relocating from Midtown, the organization is making a concerted effort to reinvent itself for the internet age. International Center of Photography was founded by Cornell Capa in 1974. The Bowery space includes a 90-foot wall of glass — looking from the street into a large public area. It includes a cafe, bookstore and an exhibition wall for temporary installations. There’s no admission fee for this front area.
At the time of its founding, Lubell noted, Capa envisioned the institution as a center for robust discussion and engagement. “It was a place for public debate and conversation,” he said, “about the big issues of the day. That’s what I really hope (happens here).” A lot has changed in the past 40 years. Today, armed with iphones, we’re all creators of images. ICP now calls itself ” the world’s leading institution dedicated to photography and visual culture.”
Lubell explained, “We should be having conversations about how we’re being affected by imagery — everything from politics to climate change to ISIS to Tinder. Images are driving society and that’s what I hope, that over the next few months and years, you’re going to see some real dynamic conversations that come out of (this space).”
“I want people to come here,” Lubell added, “even if they don’t go to the exhibition. Have a coffee. See what’s around. This space is going to change on a two-week basis… Every time you’re here, something different will be happening.”
ICP has formed several community partnerships to help fulfill its new vision. It will be offering introductory photography, writing and bookmaking workshops and hosting special programming on Thursday evenings, including book launches. “Community collaborators” include University Settlement, Grand Street Settlement, the Bowery Mission and the LES Girls Club.
Lubell looked at many locations in different neighborhoods before settling on 250 Bowery. “I don’t think I could have picked a better place,” said Lubell. As someone who was born and raised in New York, Lubell recalled the days in which “you didn’t come to the Bowery after dark.” Referring to the legendary district’s “regentrification,” he said, “there’s still an element of the old Bowery here and it’s sort of a mix (of old and new).” ICP is right across the street from the New Museum. Lubell is working hard to create a strong bond between the two organizations. “I love the relationship with the New Museum,” he explained. “There’s a conversation between both institutions.”
There’s also a bigger picture. New York’s cultural center of gravity is shifting downtown. The Lower East Side now boasts 125 galleries. At the same time, Lubell said, he likes the fact that the neighborhood is “still in transition” and he said, “I love the community that surrounds this area.”
ICP’s school is still located uptown and the institution’s expansive archives were moved to New Jersey. In the past, Lubell has said he eventually wants to bring the museum, school and archives together in one location on the Lower East Side. There have been hints that International Center of Photography could become a major tenant at Essex Crossing, the big mixed-used project now under construction.
Yesterday, Lubell described ICP’s future planning as, “still developing.” He added, “This idea of a center and trying to unify both parts of the organization is foremost in my mind, and so I’m looking to try to bring the school downtown.” As for Essex Crossing, Lubell said, “(the developers have) talked to a lot of different institutions. We’ve been one of them. We have talked with them about the school. We’re still talking.”
For the moment, though, the focus is on this week’s official opening of the Bowery space. ICP will be open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. On Thursday, the galleries will be open until 9 p.m. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors. Children under the age of $14 get in free when accompanied by an adult. On opening day, Thursday, admission will be free. Visit ICP’s website for more information.