Long-time director of Visual AIDS will lead Philadelphia's ICA

ICA in Philadelphia; at right, from left to right: Amy Sadao, Yoko Ono, Jeffrey Deitch at a Visual AIDS benefit

It's not possible to overstate the importance of Philadelphia’s ICA to the world of contemporary art, from around 1965 on. There was the night of October 8, 1965, the opening of Andy Warhol’s first solo museum show, held at ICA (then located in the Fisher Fine Arts Library). It was a moment that was “arguably the turning point of Warhol's career.” ICA hasn't missed an opportunity to push and innovate and suggest. Tony Smith in 1966. Christo in '68. “Chance and Art” in 1970. Agnes Martin in 1973. “Video Art” in 1975. “Material Pleasures” (the Fabric Workshop) in 1979. “Machineworks” in 1981. A Laurie Anderson retrospective in 1983, going back to her first work in 1969. David Wojnarowicz in 1985 (my own first year in Philly — this was a great show). The beautiful “1967: At the Crossroads” show in 1987. The famous Mapplethorpe exhibit (“the perfect moment”) in 1988, at the first heights of the culture wars. Sally Mann in 1992. Serrano's works in 1994. Tony Oursler’s video installations in 1997. Polly Apfelbaum in 2003. I loved “The Big Nothing” in 2004. R. Crumb in 2008. So much more, of course. Claudia Gould as director took ICA still further in recent years. She was hired to the directorship of the Jewish Museum in New York and so we began searching for a successor. Now we’ve found one. University-affiliated galleries and museums don't always fare well when artist/academic/administrative/trustee relationships paint grey areas onto the canvas of mission and vision. Lots of hard work led Penn through this process to a fabulous and unanimously happy result.

I'm pleased today to share the news that Amy Sadao will become the new ICA director. Amy has led Visual AIDS in New York brilliantly. She has a particularly insightful understanding of the relationship — current and prospective — between contemporary writing and visual (and other) arts.

Here is an announcement that is circulating today from the university:

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Amy Sadao Appointed Dietrich Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art

President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price are pleased to announce the appointment of Amy Sadao as Daniel Dietrich II Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, effective September 1, 2012.

Sadao is currently Executive Director of Visual AIDS in New York City. In this position, which she has held for ten years, she has built Visual AIDS into one of the most vital and prominent arts organizations of its kind. Her accomplishments include staging hundreds of on-site, traveling, and online exhibitions of contemporary artists and curators, as well as associated catalogues, symposia, performances, and advocacy materials; expanding the organization’s attendance, revenues, budget, donor base, and strategic plan; and building a Board of Directors and a team of more than a hundred dedicated staff members, interns, and volunteers. She has served widely as a consultant and juror for other arts organizations and as a sought-after public speaker and media expert.

“Amy Sadao promises to be a leader of unparalleled energy and vision for the next phase of ICA’s growth,” said President Gutmann. “She has an especially strong commitment to forging collaborations across a wide range of diverse communities and placing art at the center of dialogue about the most significant intellectual, political, and social issues of the contemporary world.”

“Amy Sadao has transformed every aspect of Visual AIDS over the past decade,” noted Provost Price, “expanding its leadership in contemporary art and social advocacy while building the infrastructure and resources to sustain it for the future. I have been particularly impressed by her understanding of the role of art in a research university – and in catalyzing intellectual and interdisciplinary inquiry in general – as well as by the knowledge she brings of Penn and Philadelphia.

“The President and I are grateful to Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor and the outstanding consultative committee that she chaired, whose months of work reviewing and interviewing candidates from around the world helped us arrive at this exciting outcome. We also thank Robert Chaney, Director of Curatorial Affairs at ICA, who has served with extraordinary distinction as Interim Director. The strength of the candidate pool and global interest in this position are testaments to the world-class institution that has been built by ICA’s exceptional staff.”

Sadao earned an MA (2000) in Comparative Ethnic Studies from UC-Berkeley and a BFA (1995) from The Cooper Union School of Art.