Hip-hop and Russian architecture blend at the Institute of Contemporary Art

Tim Portlock's Tim Portlock’s “Sunrise” is on display at the ICA as part of Ruffneck Constructivists.
Credit: Courtesy of the artist

In her 1993 hit single, MC Lyte defines a ruffneck as “a dude with attitude who only needs his fingers with his food,” wearing “boxer shorts and everything is fitting large.” It’s a familiar character in hip-hop, but not exactly the first image that comes to mind when you think of Constructivism, the merger of modern art and architecture that originated in early 20th-century Russia. But somehow those two ideas merged in the mind of artist Kara Walker, leading to the Institute of Contemporary Art’s new show “Ruffneck Constructivists.”

“I was wondering what black architecture would look like if there were enough black architects to bring forth a spatial movement that contained all the angst and braggadocio and ego and rage that black creatives have brought forth in other fields,” Walker writes in an introduction to the show. Musing on that subject led Walker to pen a stream-of-consciousness “quasi-manifesto” that directly links the Futurist Manifesto to The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Machine Gun Funk.”

Walker broke the connection down prior to the exhibition’s opening this week. “MC Lyte was a touchstone for laying out who a ruffneck is; the building part has to do with the spaces that this man occupies. How does he occupy it? Does he build it? Does he punch it? Does he reshape it? Does he lean in the corners? That led to a long stream of thoughts about the place of architects in the modern art landscape and the possibilities for what a hip-hop architecture might look like.”

What the 11 artists in the ICA show come up with in answer to Walker’s queries range from Israeli-born architect-turned-artist Lior Shvil’s bunker-like installation to William Pope.L’s wall of 688 baloney slices mounted with cameo-like photocopy portraits.

The ICA turns 50
The show coincides with the opening of “ICA@50,” a new exhibition celebrating the landmark 50th anniversary of the institution with a series of revolving two-week micro-exhibitions responding to highlights from the ICA’s history.

“We thought this anniversary would be an occasion to look a little more deeply at out past, exploratorily, investigatorily and associatively,” explained senior curator Ingrid Schaffner.

Ruffneck Constructivists
Through Aug. 17
Institute of Contemporary Art
118 S. 36th St.
Free, 215-898-7108

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