Swingin' Sixty

Lillian Davies on the ICA's sixtieth anniversary


Left: ICA director Ekow Eshun. Right: Noa Weintraub with musician Alison Goldfrapp. (All photos: Lillian Davies)

By 7:30 PM Wednesday night, paparazzi lined the red carpet outside the endearingly modest front door of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, eager for snaps of stars from the art, fashion, television, film, and music industries participating in the ICA and Sony Ericsson’s “All Tomorrow’s Pictures” project. A celebration of the institution’s sixtieth anniversary, and an effective publicity and fund-raising stunt, fifty-nine celebs and one mere mortal—Matthew Gordon (lifted from the civilian masses by a panel of judges)—were asked to capture a “vision of tomorrow” on a K800i Cyber-shot phone for an exhibition and limited-edition catalog.

The first-floor galleries were open for an intimate private view, where guests enjoyed Veuve Clicquot and cigarettes on the balconies facing Buckingham Palace. There I chanced on Idris Khan, rising star of the London art world, signing Anna Schori’s copy of the hardcover catalog. I asked him about his initial reaction to the inclusion of his work in a show that also featured “non-artists.” “The Chapmans and Tracey Emin were doing it, so I thought, why not?”

Ekow Eshun, artistic director of the ICA, discussed the roster—“they’re just people we like”—before launching into a speech about the lineup’s reflection of a “culturally promiscuous organization.” The brief elicited a wide range of intimate imagery: Helena Christensen’s sentimental portrait of her young son; musician Beth Ditto, backstage; and Sue Webster and Tim Noble’s shots of their anuses. Noble noted, “You’re looking through the ‘O’ of Sony—it’s all about orifices.” Probably not the sort of promotional pitch the company had in mind. Jo Robertson, one half of art collective Blood ’n’ Feathers, offered a disclaimer for her Hangover 1–4: “These photos are from before I started working out—pre–firming of the tit.”

The crowd trickled downstairs to the ICA bar, where I bumped into artist and musician Martin Creed. He dismissed what he saw as the reductive division between artists and “non-artists.” “Everything everyone does is a creative act. If you stick to the visual-art world, it gets too cliquey.” Besides, variety makes for a better party. I got to meet the legendary Don Letts, who noted that his first film, The Punk Rock Movie, was launched at the ICA in 1978. “I’m not just here for the phone.”

Left: Artists Tim Noble and Jo Robertson. Right: Artist Martin Creed.

Soon, paddles were handed out, and everyone shuffled toward the ICA’s theater, dramatically dolled up for a benefit auction of the photographs. The Chapman brothers’ haunting photograph of an ecstatic female face was a steal at £2,800, and Zed Nelson’s gory plastic-surgery images were “bought in”—if that’s what you call it when the auctioneer, Rodman Primack, gets frustrated and takes the piece himself. Emin’s self-portrait set the evening’s (admittedly humble) record, with George Michael’s partner, Kenny Goss, picking it up for an easy £5,000. When I congratulated him on his purchase, he said he was excited to support his friend and to add the picture to “one of the best collections of her work in the world.” He also expressed his excitement to show her neon piece Fuck off and die bitch in the Lone Star State, at the opening of his Goss Michael Foundation in Dallas later this month. (You haven’t seen the e-flux?) Welsh actor Rhys Ifans, of Notting Hill fame, didn’t bid, but as a contributor to the show, he was enjoying his momentary stint as a visual artist. “You can bullshit your way up in the art world. If you’re shit in a movie, you’re shit. But if you’re an artist, and you’re eloquent, you can make it.”

Before the music started, I prodded Peaches Geldof, daughter of Live Aid and Live 8 mastermind Bob Geldof, for her opinion of the first act, Hot Chip. “I think they’re really great, yea.” For someone whose idea of DJing is putting on a pout and playing a few CDs, she has exceptional taste. The party ended just after midnight, with the Filthy Dukes playing the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” even as the security guards flicked the lights.

Left: Peaches Geldof. Right: Photographer Anna Schori with artist Idris Khan.

Left: Artists Sue Webster and Polly Morgan. Right: The Filthy Dukes.

Left: News anchor Jon Snow with filmmaker Tejinder Jouhal. Right: Filmmakers Marc Booth and Don Letts.

Left: Artists Matthew Gordon and Peter Blake. Right: Actor Rhys Ifans.