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Nightlife: First Fridays at the ICA

Art, music, and libations on tap


Question: What do you get when you combine views of Boston Harbor, dancing, art, cocktails, and 75 minutes of curated cat videos?

Answer: Just another First Friday night at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA).

If you’re looking for a way to kick off your weekend with a bang, consider stopping by the ICA’s First Friday event tomorrow night. On the first Friday of every month, the ICA hosts an after-hours party, where for $15 you can check out the latest exhibitions, catch live talks and performances, and hobnob with a who’s who of the Boston art world. We stopped by for last month’s First Friday—appropriately titled Premiere Night—which coincided with the recent launch of two new ICA exhibitions, both running through May 4, a collection of brilliantly bizarre works by American fabric sculptor and dancer Nick Cave and a breathtaking video installation by the South African artist William Kentridge, titled The Refusal of Time. Also on view was the world-renowned Internet Cat Video Festival, featuring a seemingly endless reel of hysterically adorable feline-themed clips.

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Guests can purchase drinks and small plates of food before heading to the dance floor for a live DJ set at the ICA First Friday event.

We arrived at the museum on the early side (the evening runs from 5 to 10 p.m.) to discover a large group of people already there. An excited din circulated throughout the spacious ground floor, which doubles as a spot for socializing and shimmying on First Fridays. Guests were being treated to music from a live DJ, and around the area was a series of small cash bars with reasonably priced libations ($9 for cocktails, $6 to $8 for beer and wine) and tasty tapas, such as Kobe beef sliders ($9) and margarita flatbread ($5).

After a professional photographer snapped our pictures in front of the official photo wall, we took the majestic glass elevator to the second floor for the Internet Cat Video Festival. Skeptical at first, we couldn’t help but warm to the charming and overtly hilarious clips of cats doing the usual internet cat stuff, interspersed with more conceptual pieces that placed cats in the middle of existential narratives, with voice-overs that gave viewers a glimpse of the feline psyche. Judging from the crowd’s constant laughter, we weren’t the only ones charmed.

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First Friday attendees are free to roam the ICA’s galleries. Here, guests view Nick Cave’s conceptual paintings.

Next on our list was a trip to the top floor to scope out the ICA galleries. Here, guests were scattered around visually gripping works, talking in hushed tones—a vast difference from the boisterous noise downstairs. We stayed for an engaging talk by an ICA staff member on the inspiration behind Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, costumes crafted out of found objects, designed to cover the entire body. We then spent a long time captivated in the dark, but raucous room housing Kentridge’s provocative video installation. The ICA is known for interactive components accompanying its exhibitions, and they were on full display during the Premiere First Friday. Guests spilling out of the Nick Cave show were invited to collaborate in the making of their own Soundsuit, using vibrant felt shapes to fill in the outlines of expressive shadowed figures lining the walls.

Once we’d taken in the art, we worked our way to the glass wall at the back of the third-floor gallery space to catch the stunning nighttime view of the Boston Harbor and skyline.

Back down on the main floor, we found an explosive dance party. The DJ was cranking out hit after danceable hit and almost everyone—from those with edgy, angular haircuts and matching sculpture-like headwear to Northface-fleece-over-khaki-uniformed college kids—was busting a move. Even the security guard couldn’t keep from shaking his hips.

The party ends at 10 p.m. sharp, which makes ICA First Friday an ideal launching pad for the rest of the evening. With venues like Frost Ice Bar and Drink within walking distance, there is plenty to do right in the neighborhood.

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Although appearing spirited and celebratory, Nick Cave’s Soundsuits were originally created in response to the Rodney King beating in 1992—they can be interpreted as protective armor against societal injustices.

The next First Friday event—Beatz—is tomorrow, March 7. It will showcase modern percussion, including a performance by the Brooklyn-based quartet Sō Percussion, which uses traditional percussion instruments as well as found objects, from flowerpots to wine bottles. There will also be a performance by beat machines provided by locally based Get on Down Records, music by DJ Frank White, a discussion about the history of the beat-box machine, and a chance to print your own T-shirt. If you plan to attend, consider reserving a ticket in advance—this hot-ticket event is known to sell out.

The Institute of Contemporary Art is at 100 Northern Ave. on Boston’s waterfront; phone: 617-478-3103; hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Monday. General admission is $15, $10 for students, and free for members. Admission to First Fridays is $15 (free for ICA members) and includes museum admission, live entertainment, special programming, and a cash bar and café. First Fridays are held on the first Friday of every month, from 5 to 10 p.m., are 21+, and IDs are checked. By public transit, take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center and walk to the waterfront or take a Red Line train to South Station or a Silver Line #1 bus to Courthouse station.

This is part of a series featuring Boston nightlife venues of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.

Sascha Garrey can be reached at sgarrey@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter @SaschaGarrey.


2 Comments on Nightlife: First Fridays at the ICA

  • hi on 03.06.2014 at 2:07 pm

    I do not understand the ICA’s art

    • renaissance? on 03.06.2014 at 7:33 pm

      then again you’re not supposed to `understand’ Art ;-)

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