The International Center of Photography had almost everything: an esteemed pedigree (its founder, photojournalist Cornell Capa, was brothers with the legendary war photog Robert Capa), a permanent collection of more than 200,000 images from the likes of gritty tabloid shutterbug Weegee to art-world superstar Cindy Sherman, and some of the best, most ambitious exhibitions New York City had to offer, including surveys on greats like Richard Avedon and deep-dives into the political power of photography in documenting South Africa during Apartheid or America in the Civil Rights era.
But it was missing one thing: a lot of visitors.
“That was one of the drawbacks of the midtown space,” says ICP curator-in-residence Charlotte Cotton, about the museum’s former 42nd Street digs. “The area wasn’t associated with going to look at art and think about culture.”
She’s hoping that’s about to change. On June 23 — a year and a half after closing its Bryant Park space — ICP will open its new home at 250 Bowery downtown with the exhibition “Private, Public, Secret” (though January 2017), featuring works by historic and contemporary artists examining the notion of privacy in an increasingly image-centric world, from Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman to even Kim Kardashian (yes, she has a #selfie here).
It’s an unabashedly modern show, which is fitting given its new neighbors include the New Museum across the street, as well as the 130 or so galleries that have popped up in the Lower East Side, a stone’s throw away.
“When we lost our [midtown] lease, we wanted to find a space in an amazing cultural corridor of New York,” explains Cotton, saying that the museum’s new proximity to the burgeoning Lower East Side art scene will likely draw more foot traffic. “We wanted to join a vibrant creative community.”
The new steel-and-glass building does look more like a community center than an arts institution: It’s not ostentatiously weird, like the New Museum, or particularly sleek, like the revampedWhitney, and it certainly doesn’t have the stuffiness of more traditional manses-turned-museums like theCooper Hewitt.
One-third of the main floor is devoted to free programming — including lectures, workshops and discussions — before entering the $10-$14 galleries, which extend to the lower level. The public space also features a cafe, a bookstore curated by Pittsburgh-based Spaces Corners, a real-time “surveillance clock” by graphic designer David Reinfurt (to go with the “privacy” theme), and a wall for a rotating cast of temporary installations.
“It feels like there’s very little barrier to coming in and participating in the space,” says Cotton. “And that’s what’s at the heart of photography: Anyone can do it and participate in it. That’s so important.”