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Beyond beautiful: At ICA North, artists present imaginative ways to consider our values

Artist Yaw Owusu with his personal favorite: Same Thing, Different Objects.
Artist Yaw Owusu with his personal favorite: Same Thing, Different Objects.
(Maurice Hewitt)

If you were a longtime fan of Lux Art Institute you probably know about its new name—ICA San Diego/North—and its merger last year with the former San Diego Art Institute—now ICA San Diego/Central—in Balboa Park.

On Sept. 9, undaunted by intermittent rain, art lovers of all ages gathered for an evening of art, music, and conviviality at ICA North to celebrate the opening of ICA/San Diego’s 2022-2023 season, titled Limitless Growth, Limited World. Executive Director Andrew Utt and Associate Curator Guusje Sanders have spent almost two years assembling an exciting array of international artists-in-residence and regional artists, asking us to consider what things in our lives and our world are truly valuable.

The main event that evening was the introduction of the season’s first Artist-in-Residence, Ghana-born, Brooklyn-based Yaw Owusu, and his mesmerizing exhibit A Penny, For What It’s Worth.

At the evening event, three viewers contemplate Yaw Owusu’s African American Flag.
At the evening event, three viewers contemplate Yaw Owusu’s African American Flag.
(Maurice Hewitt)

Owusu has developed unique methods of oxidizing copper pennies into varied colors, making them major components of his artworks. Due to inflation, the copper used to make a single penny now costs more than one cent, yet production goes on. And these striking assemblages demonstrate how thoughtful, creative endeavor can transform the most valueless things into wondrous ones.

After doing his undergraduate work in Ghana, Owusu did a residency in Berlin and then chose to go to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for his MFA. “Brooklyn is loud, and it challenges and inspires me,” said the 30-year-old artist, who was included as one of “Pratt Institute’s Most Talented Artists” online. His art has been shown in galleries from New York to Nigeria, but this is his first solo museum exhibition.

His favorite piece here is one of three gigantic pennies, each including thousands of coins and created specifically for this show. You need to get up close to really appreciate the details, and take time to answer the question he poses: “What can you do with a penny?”

Write your answer on one of the cards provided, and you’ll become part of the exhibit and receive an appropriate keepsake to take home. Then think about this: if everyone in the U.S. donated a penny, what could we do?

Out of Many, including penny-covered strips of wood
Out of Many, including penny-covered strips of wood representing border fences and a mylar blanket like those used by migrants detained at the U.S. border.

(Maurice Hewitt)

Owusu calls this part of his exhibit Penny Exchange and he’ll be doing impromptu Penny Exchanges in different parts of San Diego County while he’s here to get a wider world to reflect on his questions.

“These are political pieces, not just beautiful objects,” he said. One of ICA North’s most rewarding offerings is the opportunity to chat with the artists-in-residence and see how they work. On weekend afternoons through Oct. 9 you can meet Yaw Owusu in person—a delightful experience. His art will remain through Nov. 20.

At the street-level Education Gallery is another beautiful and thought-provoking exhibit: Aesthetics of Commodity, by the season’s first Regional Artist, London-born, LA-based Carolina Caycedo. A multimedia artist whose work addresses environmental and cultural issues, she has been featured in museums, biennials, and community projects around the world. She was in Europe at the time of the Sept. 9 celebration but will be giving an artist’s talk here Oct. 28.

Live music: Fiona Digney
Live music: Fiona Digney, percussionist/producer with the innovative musical organization Art of Elan, performed a piece she co-created with Yaw Owusu, whose pennies and liquid solutions were part of the presentation.
(Maurice Hewitt)

On view are 10 large-scale digital collages, selected from a series called Distressed Debt. In these pieces, Caycedo overlays 19th- and 20th- century stocks and bonds with images she found in historical documents showing some of the slaves and indigenous people whose sufferings were discounted in the grand schemes of companies and banks.

Guusje Sanders, who walked us through the exhibit, emphasized the artist’s underlying message: “These stocks and bonds look attractive and desirable—that makes them seem valuable, so people don’t question what the collateral is in human lives.”

In the Education Pavilion, Associate Curator Guusje Sanders posed with Carolina Caycedo’s Pennsylvania State Tax Free Bond.
In the Education Pavilion, Associate Curator Guusje Sanders posed with Carolina Caycedo’s Pennsylvania State Tax Free Bond.
(Maurice Hewitt)

As with everything at ICA North, the closer you look, the more you see, and there’s plenty to look forward to in the coming year. To keep up with all the programs and special events—many of them free—sign up for their newsletter at icasandiego.org or follow them on social media @icasandiego

Now at ICA North:

Yaw Owusu: A Penny, For What It’s Worth, on view through Nov. 20.

Meet the Artist: Saturdays and Sundays, 3-5 p.m., through Oct. 9.

Carolina Caycedo: Aesthetics of Commodity, on view through Oct. 30.

Artist’s Talk and Closing Reception: Friday, Oct. 28, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

ICA San Diego/North: 1550 S El Camino Real, Encinitas, 92024

Hours: Thursday-Sunday, 12-5 p.m. Free admission.

For more information: Email info@icasandiego.org or visit icasandiego.org


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