Sydielim Chong: ICA Miami 2020

Institute of Contemporary Art

Student Biography
Picture of Sydielim taken by Mileidys Chong, 2018 (CC by 4.0)

Sydielim Chong is a passionate 19-year-old student at Florida International University. Sydielim is on a pre-law track majoring in criminal justice while also applying a minor in statistics. Sydielim is a full-time tutor for Bright and Brainy Tutoring. Sydielim also enjoys watching movies, especially thrillers, and loves going out on adventures in hopes of exploring new things all over the world. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she hopes to learn more of the valuable history behind Miami and the artistic culture rooted in the city.

Photo of the front of the Institute of Contemporary Art taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is located in the Miami Design District right next to Wynwood. This is an area previously defined by low median income and hence, an area characterized by gentrification many years later. Although this may hold negative connotation at first, I feel that with one of ICA’s initiatives being that it holds art done by local and upcoming artists, the institution serves as a beacon of advancement for the people currently and previously living in this area instead of one that symbolizes the country’s growing wage gap. The institution serves as a bridge between the people of the community and its own, home-grown artistic expression. 

Additionally, by being located near Downtown Miami, the site of Art Basel Miami, the institution positions itself to aptly accommodate the outpour of art enthusiasts from the annual convention thereby furthering the platform it is to further the work of upcoming artists.


The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) first opened in 1996 under the Museum of Contemporary Art in a building designed by Charles Gwathmey. Funded by Norman Braman and his wife, the ICA is dedicated to providing a platform for local, emerging, and under-recognized artists. The ICA most values advancing art and it being connected to our modern-day reality.

In 2014, due to municipal concerns, the board of the museum filed a lawsuit against the city for the right to relocate, leading to the development of the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2017 at the current location in the Design District of Miami. The ICA currently resides in the Miami Design District which is fitting considering the fact that this area of Miami highly appreciates artwork and underground artists which goes hand-in-hand with the ICA’s goal.


The mission of the ICA is solely to get under-recognized artists more recognition in order for them to continue their journeys. The ICA is composed of dozens of exhibitions of artists one has probably never heard of, and that is the exact point of the museum; to get visitors to discover new, local, and underrated artists.

The ICA also promotes the advancements of experimentation in contemporary art through promoting the sharing of art and concepts throughout the city of Miami and worldwide. This is done by a dynamic year-round schedule in which exhibitions, works, and collections are presented and rotated allowing for a multitude of artists and their works to be showcased. By having a rapidly shifting collection visitors are encouraged to come multiple times a year thereby maximizing the exposure given to emerging artists.


Admission to the Institute of Contemporary Art is free of charge as their mission is to get local and up and coming artists the recognition they deserve. Though admission is free, the ICA does require that visitors reserve their tickets in advance, thus making it easier to admit visitors in by simply scanning their reserved ticket upon entry.

One-day admission is free, though they do have a membership which costs $50 annually. This membership includes a personalized membership card, invitations to VIP events such as opening receptions for new exhibitions, exclusive networking events, 20% discount at ICA shop. Reserved seating at all ICA public programs, free parking, exclusive discounts in the Miami Design District, and much more. With proof, artists, students, educators, seniors, and military personnel are eligible for this membership at $20 off, making it only a $30 annual fee.  


The ICA has over 100 permanent artworks, most of which are donated to them by other museums or by artists themselves. Despite having so many artworks in their hands, they aren’t all on display. The institute makes it a point to consistently rotate around art, this way, their mission of getting under-recognized artists more attention is always prioritized. Though they do re-exhibit the artworks they own, it is a very small percentage of permanent artworks that are on display. When I visited the museum, there were about 7-8 artworks from their collection on display. 

I Want a President” by Zoe Leonard

Photo taken by Sydielim Chong of letter by Zoe Leonard. (CC by 4.0)

One of the permanent works at The ICA is Zoe Leonard’s, “I want a president”. The text work is a poem in which Leonard longs for a president characterized by the experiences of a populace instead of that of the elite. The poem was written in 1992 alongside poet Eileen Myles’s campaign for U.S. president against opponents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Leonard writes of numerous longings for a president candidate including, “I want a president with no airconditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harrassed and gaybashed and deported.” 

The work highlights the divide between U.S. government officials and the governed and serves to bring attention to the growing divide between a people and its political representatives and leaders. Written at a time when political awareness was at a peak due to the AIDS epidemic, the work served as a call to action to the people to hold elected officials accountable. Interestingly enough, the work is still cited in today’s political climate and even contains wording relevant to the recent 2020 election with “I want a president who isn’t the lesser of two evils.” The work expresses the sentiment held by the common people today and serves to bring attention to the notion that our elected officials are removed from our experiences by a growing margin everyday. Personally, I feel the work is very fitting as a part of The ICA’s permanent collection being that the institute aims to further under appreciated artists in the same manner that this work speaks for those that are underrepresented. 

“March For Our Lives” by Keith Mayerson

Photo of artwork “March for Our Lives” taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

The ICA also features the work of Keith Mayerson. Particularly that of “March For Our Lives” and “Rome”. Mayerson’s work is characterized by pieces that aim to immortalize important and polarizing moments and figures from U.S. history. The work “March For Our Lives” depicts the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez in her speech at the March For Our Lives demonstration of March 2018. Particularly, the work aims to capture Gonzalez during the six minutes and twenty seconds of silence, the same amount of time in which the shooting took place, she held in honor of her fallen classmates.

“LeRage” by Arthur Jafa

Photo of “LeRage” taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

Arthur Jafa is a filmmaker and artist that seeks to depict and orchestrate through his art the connection between visual arts and blackness. As per the words of Jafa, he aims to “make black cinema with the power, beauty, and alienation of black music”. The work depicted above, LeRage, is a life size print of the Marvel Comics character The Hulk. Typically a creature characterized by a vivid green skin, Jafa’s iteration features a much darkened skin tone to serve as commentary on cultural perception and blackness. This work, strongly drawing on Jafa’s interest in science fiction, illustrates for its viewer the intricacies associated with black representation and the black experience in society through the vehicle of The Hulk character.


At the time of my visit to the ICA, two temporary exhibitions were being presented.

Tomás Esson: The GOAT

Dates on display: July 8th, 2020 – May 2nd, 2021

This exhibition was actually the first solo museum exhibition of Cuban painter Tomás Esson featuring works spanning across the artist’s 30 year career. It is also interesting to note that his earlier works were also presented via reinterpretation at the exhibition. 

Esson’s works feature an almost chaotic energy starring mythological creatures, political commentary, and sexual representation. It is for that reason, and for his eagerness to call out hypocrisy within Cuban society, that his first exhibition in Havana, Cuba in 1988 was prematurely shut down by government officials. 

Although a large percentage of Esson’s influence was derived from his living in Havana starting with his birth in 1963 and subsequent study at Instituto Superior de Arte, the works spanning across his celebrated career feature influences from Miami and Paris as well, both of which were homes for Esson at one point or another after his departure from Cuba in 1990.

Photo of “Patria o Muerte” taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

As depicted above, the works displayed featured mythical creatures in sexual embrace along with the repeating motif of a silver talisman composed of glistening flesh. After his departure from Cuba to New York in 1990, Esson continued the general theme in which he previously composed his works coming up with new and innovative ways to express his common themes. His works from this period also demonstrate his development as an artist and are often able to be easily identified in regards to the timeline of his career. His moving to Miami in 2015 saw a shift in depicting the flora of the city with the sexual themes he so often explored.

Allan McCollum: Works since 1969

Dates on display: March 26th, 2020 – January 17, 2021

Interestingly enough, this exhibition, like that of Esson’s, was also a first for Allan McCollum as it was the first museum retrospective held in the United States for the artist. The exhibition at the ICA at the time of my visit featured works from all across the artist’s five decade long career.

Photo taken by Sydielim Chong of artwork by Allan McCollum. (CC by 4.0)

McCollum, in his works, explores the relation between his subject and its uniqueness, context, and value in society as a parallelism to the museum it may be presented in being that the artwork is also a part of the museum’s collection. McCollum focuses on the notion of a collection as a vehicle by which we may come to understand how we collect and value various material possessions, often times obsessively. His most early works in the collection feature large, repetitive presentations of common consumer goods such as dye and bleach in order to create a reiterated piece of art as a whole. This is done to reflect on the collections that common people may collect such as that of sports memorabilia or family photos. In works such as that of The Dog from Pompei (1991), McCollum explores the relation between copies and originals by way of displaying numerous casts of the famous fossil from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the year AD 79.

Special Programs

The ICA has four public events completely free to the public. These events and programs are a way to build art within Miami and bring artists and the community together.  The signature public programs of ICA Miami both facilitate the diversity of information and promote creative development. ICA has a variety of programs which are all free to the public and consist of bringing people together in the world of free expression, creativity, and art as a whole. Below you will find just a couple of the many other special programs ICA offers.

ICA’s Family Day:

One of ICA’s most popular programs is ‘family day.’ Family day, currently, is held on the third Sunday of October through December. During family day, the museum digitally showcases a variety of animated films.

ICA Ideas:

ICA’s Ideas program is dedicated to arising discussion within the community based on artists and their artworks. This program is known for inviting acclaimed artists to speak with the visitors about their artworks.

Young Artists Initiative:

Another one of their many programs which caught my attention was their young artists initiative program. This is a program in which students in high school with an interest in art can explore a practice in which they get to meet artists, participate in exhibitions, and even create artworks to expand their portfolios.


Interview with visitor, Huzaifa Bin-Rahman, 20, Miami resident.

Have you been to this museum before? If so, what brings you back to this museum?

I’ve been to this museum once before, this is my second visit here. I haven’t been to too many other museums, but I’d say this is definitely one of my favorites. It’s in the design district near Wynwood so it’s definitely in the right spot for the type of art it presents. The feel and vibe of this place is definitely one of modernity which I can most definitely appreciate. Both times I’ve come here I’ve felt welcomed and encouraged even to look around as opposed to being in some sort of high-brow environment. I respect and support local artists and creators for their drive and passion for what they do and I feel that ICA really does provide a platform for their work to be displayed. There’s always new pieces so that definitely has me coming back and I can see myself coming back here a lot more in the future.

Are you an artist? If not, what interests you most about art? 

I, myself, am not an artist but I do appreciate art whether its from the Byzantine Empire or if its from an artist located right here in Wynwood. I hold them to be in the same regard and I appreciate the creativity, design, and messages that every type of work seeks to hold.

In your own words, how would you define art?

I think art is self defined. I think art can be a picture that you took from your iPhone that you really like the aesthetic of or it can be the Sistine Chapel. I feel art is the vehicle for  the expression and description of a society no matter the scale at which it’s done. I definitely appreciate all types of art not necessarily just because of the way it looks but due to knowing the meaning, message, and goal behind it alongside knowing the effort that an artist put in to precisely capture and convey the emotions they felt.

Would you say this museum is trying to convey a certain message? If so, what?

I think that by positioning itself as a platform for emerging and upcoming artists as well as by being in the Design District near Wynwood in Miami the museum presents and defines itself as a vehicle for showcasing talent in Miami that may not necessarily be very well-known. By being a more interactive space as well I think the space becomes inter dimensional by encouraging its visitors to interact with the works which presents a message that art is not only what is presented as high brow or “art” in a more noble sense but rather what the viewer makes of it by interacting with it and viewing the art in a deeper sense. This allows for a message that art is more accessible to the masses than previously deemed by presenting art that is for the people, by the people.


Interview with Senior Gallery Associate, Grace Almanza

How long have you worked at ICA?

I’ve been with ICA Miami for a little over two years now. This past Miami Art Week would be my third with the museum. 

What is your favorite collection or art piece and why?

My favorite art piece on view is Unspecified Promise by Allora and Calzadilla. While it is not part of our permanent collection, it is a semi-permanent fixture in our Sculpture Garden. Allora and Calzadilla are an amazing conceptual artist duo. I love this piece because it is very personal to the artists themselves, conveying a general sense of loss and hope, while also speaking on how the United States in particular has greatly impacted the political, economic, and social realities of countries like Puerto Rico. The sculpture itself is made up of a construction loader that has been cut in half to be attached to thirty tons of black granite.

Would you say COVID-19 is negatively affecting the mission of the museum?

ICA Miami’s mission is to always foster the exchange of art and ideas throughout the Miami region. We strive to promote continuous experimentation and new perspectives within contemporary art. COVID-19 has not directly affected our mission, but we are very much committed to making the museum experience as safe and healthy as possible for all of our staff, guests, and artists. 

How has working here changed your views on art and life as a whole?

The art has definitely changed my overall perspective on life. ICA Miami exhibits such a unique and eye-opening batch of artists. Every artist that comes through, from Eric Paul Riege to Judy Chicago to Paolo Nazareth, always teaches you something new. 


Overall, I found my visit to The ICA to be very informative as well as eye-opening in the sense that I was able to gain a feel for art that is not quite often recognized nor appreciated. I laid my eyes upon works that were the first of many for numerous talented individuals and I can very much appreciate the artistry and mission statement behind the ICA and the individuals it seeks to forward within the art world. I also very much appreciated the location it was in being that it represented a sense of new horizons for the city of Miami and a sense of the upcoming innovation and ingenuity offered by generations yet to come. Further, I found the employees and staff of the museum to be quite passionate about their line of work as well encouraging of others to forward themselves within the work to truly gain a sense of understanding of the artistry being presented. The only nuisance that I can possibly think of is that I wish the museum’s permanent collection and facility was larger in order to maximize the mission statement that the ICA holds.n However, overall, I find that the museum is one to be most definitely recommended and one that I can see myself coming to for years to come.



“Visit.” Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami,

Author: Syd

Hi class! My name is Sydielim (Syd for short) and I’m currently a sophomore studying criminal justice and statistics. I hope I get to know all of you a bit better through the semester!

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