Institute of Cultural Inquiry

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Institute of Cultural Inquiry
non-profit organization
Los Angeles
United States
Key people
Lise Patt (Director)
ServicesICI sponsors art projects, performances, exhibitions and publications

The Institute of Cultural Inquiry (ICI) is a non-profit organization located in Los Angeles, California. The ICI states that its mission is "to educate the public about the visual methods used in society to describe and discuss cultural phenomena." The ICI sponsors art projects, performances, exhibitions, symposia, and publications related to its major areas of interest, which include the AIDS pandemic, obsolete technologies, and marginal cultural figures.


The Institute of Cultural Inquiry has two long-running projects that address the global AIDS/HIV pandemic.[1] For the AIDS Bottle Project, which began in the 1980s, the ICI creates unique glass bottles memorializing Americans in the arts and art-related fields who have died from complications due to HIV/AIDS. Each bottle has an individual's name and year of death etched on the glass and a short biography printed under the lid; the interior may be left empty or serve as a receptacle for personal memorabilia. The bottles have been publicly displayed at or outside such venues as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New Museum (New York), and the New York Public Library. Afterwards, the bottles are given away free to members of the public.[2][3][4]

The ICI's second long-running AIDS-related project is the AIDS Chronicles. For this project, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2003, the front pages of the New York Times are collected. Then these pages are painted over in dark red, leaving visible only information pertaining to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. On World AIDS Day, the ICI displays the prior year's pages, creating a visual record of the ebb and flow of attention to the subject on the part of one of the most influential newspapers in the United States.[5][6]

In addition to sponsoring such projects, the ICI houses some permanent exhibits as well as an archive and a library that are open to the public by appointment. Among the permanent exhibits are:

  • the Earth Cabinet: a collection of earth from locations around the world
  • the Ephemera Kabinett: a collection of ephemeral printed matter from around the world
  • bound volumes of the AIDS Chronicles, with bindings commissioned from visual and book artists.

In 2011, the LA Weekly, in its annual "best of Los Angeles" issue, listed the Institute of Cultural Inquiry as "best place to figure some shit out".[7]


Through its publishing arm, ICI Press, the institute has published three books (all in multiple editions) and a number of smaller publications such as catalogs and pamphlets. The books are all anthologies combining scholarly essays with artwork and other visual material.

In 1995, ICI Press published Bataille's Eye & ICI Field Notes 4, an examination of philosopher Georges Bataille's pornographic novel Story of the Eye, focusing on the publication and translation history of Bataille's text. Edited by Deborah Cullen, it presented essays, artworks and research related to Story of the Eye and was the first book to reproduce the original illustrations created by André Masson and Hans Bellmer for the first two editions of the novella. Bataille’s Eye also included a detailed publishing history that outlined the various appearances of the tale since 1928 along with a lengthy “excavation” project comparing key passages from four known versions of Bataille’s tale, including a now-rare 1953 translation. A unique set of prints commissioned from 13 international artists and printed at Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop in New York was reproduced in the book under the title Oeillet. The book also includes a round-up of projects by a selection of ICI Associates. It was produced in a trade edition and two limited editions that included complete sets of the Oeillet prints.

In 2001 came Benjamin's Blind Spot: Walter Benjamin and the Premature Death of Aura & ICI Field Notes 5: The Manual of Lost Ideas, an application of cultural critic Walter Benjamin's ideas to contemporary life, edited by Lise Patt. In the margins of the book was printed material from a found manuscript known as The Manual of Lost Ideas.[8] Angela Glass, writing in Afterimage, called it "[a] concise and rewarding collection of essays.... [that] cleverly provokes far-reaching reconsideration of the lingering presence of blind spots and aura in today's art and culture."[9] It was produced in a traded edition and two limited editions featuring a full-color sheet of stamps drawn from the Manual of Lost Ideas.

In 2007, the press published Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald, a 630-page survey of German novelist W.G. Sebald's use of images, together with artist's projects that were inspired by Sebald. Edited by Lise Patt with Christel Dillbohner, it was the first work to closely examine the role of photography in Sebald's novels, with essayists approaching Sebald through the filters of art history, film and photographic studies, cultural theory, and psychoanalysis. It included an English translation of an interview Sebald gave in 1997 in which he talks exclusively about his use of photographs. The book featured artworks by Shimon Attie, Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Andre Breton, Tacita Dean, Marcel Duchamp, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rodney Graham, Vic Muniz, and Gerhard Richter and artist's projects by Dorothy Cross, Pablo Helguera, Jeremy Millar, and Helen Mirra, among others.[10][11] Richard Sheppard wrote that "the editors and publishers have done their work magnificently: the layout is generous and clear, the paper and illustrations are excellent, the structure is disciplined and subtle, the documentation, especially the impeccable."[12] Jonathan Long called it "beautifully designed, printed, and bound to the highest standards, and [it] reproduces visual material with exemplary clarity."[13]

Other ICI publications include 100/10 (2011, the catalog of a series of 10 ICI-sponsored curatorial projects), Speculative Pentimenti (2013, the catalog of an exhibition of paintings by Sande Sisneros), geZeiten (2009, featuring the work of Christel Dillbohner), and two books by Martin Gantman, Odalisque Suite and See You When We Get Home.


The ICI is directed by Los Angeles-based artist and curator Lise Patt, who works with a group of associates that assist in the planning, implementation, and archiving of ICI projects. ICI Associates have included Robert Allen, Melinda Smith Altshuler, Anna Ayeroff, Deborah Cullen, Christel Dillbohner, Axel Forrester, Martin Gantman, Antoinette LaFarge, Gero Leson, Yolande Macias McKay, Arnaldo Morales, Deborah Paulson, Danny Redfern, Lothar Schmitz, Sande Sisneros, and Richard Smoley.

The ICI's Visualist-in-Residence program has included Julene Paul, Greg Cohen, Christel Dillbohner, Martin Gantman, Maya Gurantz, Jaime Knight, Chris Handran, Amy Kaczur, Anna Ayeroff, and Jared Nielsen.

The Institute's Monkey Head Residence Program has included Martin Gantman, Anna Ayeroff, Antoinette LaFarge, Greg Cohen, Pam Posey, Christel Dillbohner, Christian Smith, Amy Kaczur and the Thin End of the Wedge.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Kalmann, Frederick. "Day Without Art: Reflection on AIDS' Cultural Impact." The Birmingham News, 29 November, 1992. Print.
  2. ^ Clifton, Leigh A. "The Bottle Project." ArtWeek, 28 November 1991. Print.
  3. ^ "Bottled-Up Emotions." The Advocate, 29 January 1991. Print.
  4. ^ Moreton, Bethany. "Glass Jars Represent Lights Gone Out." The Advocate, 8 December 1993. Print.
  5. ^ Cohen, Danielle. "Victims Remembered on World AIDS Day." Our Times (Santa Monica), 29 November 1998. Print.
  6. ^ "The AIDS Chronicles at the Institute of Cultural Inquiry." New Times Los Angeles, 3 December 1997. Print.
  7. ^ "LA Weekly Best Of" website
  8. ^ LaFarge, Antoinette. "Manual of Lost Ideas". 'Other Voices, May 2007. Web.
  9. ^ Glass, Angela. "Benjamin's Blindspot." Afterimage (2002).
  10. ^ Blatt, Ari J. "Phototextuality: Photograph, Fiction, and Criticism." Visual Studies (2009).
  11. ^ Dillon, Brian. "Brian Dillon on Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald." Review in Aperture, Summer 2008.
  12. ^ Sheppard, Richard. "Woods, Trees and the Spaces in Between." Journal of European Studies (2009).
  13. ^ Long, Jonathan. Source, 2008.