ICA, coffee, and trains: a ramble in Boston

Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: "If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him." These are difficulties the man from the country has not expected...

My brother and I set off from our hostel last night to find the Institute of Contemporary Art. We were chased out by some of the worst coffee ever (our hostel's; but I've yet to find a really even decent cup of dark roast in this town), and by a sense of adventure on our first night in the city. The packed train screamed a protest, metal grating on metal; a dragon racing through the crumbling cement and exposed wiring of the Boston metro. We were on our way.

We missed the stop.

We knew roughly where we were bound, yes, but the hostelier we'd asked was a bit vague on exactly where to get off the bus after the metro. So we rode around the airport and took a second crack at it. We got the stop right this time. It was a rough-ish part of town at night, and we jumped across a low fence and made our way up to the "big glass building" we were told was the ICA, and we jumped into the elevator that was marked "service entry." We were in the wrong building. We did not want to see the boat expo.

Back out into a night that was beginning to drizzle, we cut across a parking lot that was spotted with a gritty sand and uneven concrete. We cut through a break in the fence. We met these fellows:

The ICA is a squat, garishly lit building, surrounded on three sides by an oddly-fenced parking lot, through which we trekked, guided on by the lurking Obey Giant.

Our quixotic quest continued once inside; what purported to be a museum felt more like an uninspired airport terminal: long, badly-organized lines (20 minutes just to drop off our bags) and boxy architecture that took no heed of the beautiful water on the its one good side (indeed, the view of the water was almost completely blocked from the parking lots through which we entered).

The show was a Shepard Fairey retrospective, which seemed worth seeing. Somehow I'd thought it was Banksy who did the Obey Giant -- I see now that I was wrong. The layout was odd, the rooms jarringly separated from each other, leading into and out of themselves with no clear path, no obvious lines to follow, multiple entry/ exit points leading nowhere and everywhere, with only the slightest possibility of getting where one meant to go, the antithesis of the flow of the Guggenheim. It made the exhibition jarring, too -- one jumped from room to room, decontextualizing and recontextualizing quickly.

I enjoy Fairey's art in and of itself, but I think he gets away from himself; his irony creates recursive loops on itself as the pictures and text work with each other. His political work is so starkly, self-obviously ironic, while his portraits of rock stars so worshiping; it made me wonder about his Obama posters: is it in fact darkly ironic, meaning for us to share the joke that no, politics will go on as usual, don't really hope for too much? Or is it suggesting Obama is a rock star, a figure more about pose and glamor than substance, a simple pop-culture icon? I think Peter Schjeldahl gets it right in The New Yorker: It’s as if Fairey meant to ridicule rebellion.

The coffee has not improved.