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ICA announces 2015 Foster Prize winners

Performance artist Sandrine Schaefer is one of the ICA’s Foster Prize winners.Nabeela Vega

The Institute of Contemporary Art has announced this year’s James and Audrey Foster Prize Artists: performance artists Vela Phelan and Sandrine Schaefer; visual artist, technologist, and DJ Ricardo De Lima; and kijidome, an artists collective.

This year’s prize bypasses the usual process: nomination, followed by an exhibition of work by nominees and jury selection of one winner of the cash award, which is given biennially to a promising Boston-area artist. All four artists in this year’s show are already Foster Prize winners.

The process change, says Jenelle Porter, the ICA’s senior curator, arose from this year’s focus on performance art and collaborative art-making, both of which have garnered increasing attention in museums in recent years. Unlike painters and sculptors, performance artists don’t have work available to mount a show. Consequently, this year’s projects needed more funding up front.


“We started to understand this was a compelling and lively section of the Boston art community, making work not typically seen in galleries and museums, although that is changing,” says Porter. “These are amazing artists who are pretty underfunded, and not making work they can sell.”

Porter and John Andress, the ICA’s associate director of performing arts, solicited proposals from artists throughout the area before they tapped these four. Streamlining the selection process and eliminating a jury, Porter says, “keeps the apparatus smaller, and we have more resources to put into projects.”

Ricardo De Lima’s “Useful.” ICA

The last Foster Prize, awarded to conceptual artist Katarina Burin in 2013, was $25,000. This year, in addition to funding support for work presented at the ICA, each winner will be awarded an honorarium. Porter declined to disclose the amount.

The 2015 James and Audrey Foster Prize Exhibition, opening in April, will feature shows-within-the-show mounted by kijidome, Phelan, and De Lima, a range of programming including films and lectures curated by De Lima, and several performance art pieces by Schaefer and Phelan.

The exhibition has more moving parts than most.

“With Ricardo and kijidome, we asked, what if you had the resources of a museum to import what you do here,” says Andress. De Lima is a curator as well as an artist. Kijidome, a collective of four artists, will be working purely in a curatorial role.


Kijidome, an alternative space in the South End founded by artists Sean Downey, Carlos Jiménez Cahua, Lucy Kim, and Susan Metrican, has hosted all kinds of projects. It has mounted straight-ahead exhibitions, set up a green screen for visiting artists to play with, and invited a small press in for a residency. The artists do not intend to exhibit their own art at the ICA, but will organize two shows featuring artists who live or teach in Boston.

kijidome’s installation “Willie Stewart: The Love You Withhold Is the Pain that You Carry.”ICA

De Lima organizes Spectacle Boston, a series of events in a Chinatown loft that includes screenings of underground films and experimental music. He also runs Picó Picante, a monthly global dance music event. Porter says that in addition to presenting films, music, and lectures, De Lima will exhibit what she calls “sculpture for display — mechanisms that present art work by other artists.”

“There will be all these other Boston-area artists included in the [Foster Prize] exhibition,” says Porter. “It’s what we hoped for. This structure allows more conversation and access.”

Schaefer and Phelan, in contrast, will be solo acts. Phelan, a sculptor as well as a performance artist whose works are steeped in ritual and the intersection of sacred and profane, proposes to undertake nine performances and an installation.

“He’s been researching a Mexican antihero, Jesús Malverde,” says Andress. “He uses ritual and the beatification of objects to reckon with Catholicism.”


Vela Phelan’s “Doom Picchu.” Joey Asal

Schaefer, meanwhile, is a site-specific performance artist who works with and against time, staging performances that are several hours in duration. She will create a series of performances in the glass-fronted hallway overlooking Boston Harbor, each one leaving a trace — an accumulating physical memory of what she’s done there.

“In one performance, she’ll be in East Boston and we’ll do a media feed,” says Porter, then quickly adds, “This is still purely conjecture.”

This year’s Foster Prize exhibition, then, will be more fleet and ephemeral than ever.

“It’s a range of what performance means, of what collaboration or working collectively means,” said Porter.

“The pleasure of doing a show like this,” she says, “is you don’t quite know what you’re going to get.”

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.