Originally conceived in 1946 by poet, anarchist, art critic and historian Herbert Read, alongside a group of artists and patrons including Richard Hamilton, Eduardo Paolozzi, Roland Penrose and Peter Watson, as a "laboratory" or "playground" for contemporary arts, it continues to challenge traditional notions and boundaries of art forms essentially by working with artists, curators, musicians, directors and thinkers who share a desire to investigate issues relevant to the wider concerns of today's world.
Contributing to its history have been artists and luminaries such as T.S Eliot, Stravinsky, Elizabeth Lutyens, Jean Tinguley, Ronnie Scott, Jackson Pollock, Cartier-Bresson, Yves Klein, Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault, Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons, Nan Goldin, Peter Blake, Keith Haring, Cindy Sherman, Yoko Ono, John Maybury, Don Letts, Horace Ové, Wong Kar Wai, Lars von Trier, Takeshi Kitano, Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Winterbottom, Jeff Wall, Bill Viola, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren, Ian McEwan, Philip Pullman, Zadie Smith and Slavoj Zizek.
The ICA has played host to debut solos shows from some of today's highest profile artists including Damien Hirst, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Luc Tuymans and Steve McQueen. It was one of the first venues to present The Clash in 1976, the Stone Roses in 1989 and has seen debut London gigs from Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, Gogol Bordello, MGMT and Little Boots, as well as hosting stand-out performances from Lykke Li, Super Furry Animals, Lightning Bolt, Beastie Boys, The Knife, My Bloody Valentine, Mars Volta, Throbbing Gristle and The Big Pink.
It played host to the first iTunes Festival in 2007 with shows from the likes of Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash. Legendary club nights, Blacktronica and Batmacumba were both born and thrived at the ICA; more recently legendary grime and dubstep night, Dirty Canvas took up residence and all-nighters such as Night Club and Dance School continue to further the ICA's reputation for truly original late-night stop-outs.
Film-wise the ICA has introduced a range of visionary and controversial cinema to the UK. Groundbreaking films such as In this World, Kandahar, Osama, Our Daily Bread, Her Name is Sabine and Delta have all lent credence to the reputation of the ICA as the home of independent and world cinema and one of the first venues to screen significant social and political films from the middle-east.
ICA offsite projects have included the infamous Intruders at the Palace musical benefit in 1988 featuring David Bowie amongst many others whilst The Pet Shop Boys present Battleship Potempkin live event on Trafalgar Square in 2004 was one of the most ambitious projects ever to be staged in that arena and drew crowds of 35,000. 2007 saw a return to that politically charged arena for Beck's Fusions, a series of specially commissioned artist/music collaborations culminating with an explosive live performance from the Chemical Brothers and United Visual Artists following a three day residency in a purpose built pod on the Square from artists Jane and Louise Wilson, Doug Fishbone and Erik van Lieshout amongst others.
The last few years have seen a dazzling array of opinion formers, cultural leaders, established and emergent artists including: Gerry Adams, Monica Ali, Chris Anderson, John Berger, David Blunkett, Roberto Cuoghi, Enrico David, Beth Ditto, Brian Eno, Malcolm Gladwell, Xiaolu Guo, Mona Hatoum, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Shere Hite, Dennis Hopper, Hanif Kureishi, Mark Leckey, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Jonathan Monk, Lukas Moodysson, Sam Raimi, Martha Rosler, Marjane Satrapi, Tino Seghal, Amartya Sen, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Patti Smith, Wolfgang Tillmans, Vivienne Westwood, Naomi Wolf, Cerith Wyn Evans et al. ICA Exhibitions have sought to establish new modes of exhibition presentation and new forums for cultural discussion with landmark projects such as Nought to Sixty (May - October 2008), which presented 60 emergent artists over 6 months through a range of event, live action practice and exhibition formats, and, Talk Show, (May 2009) which over one month explored the act of speech through a variety of interactive frameworks.
2009 also saw the launch of a dedicated education space, The Fox Reading Room, which provides resources and tools for a range of communities to engage imaginatively and openly with the ICA programme. Cinematic highlights have included I for India, Belle Toujours and Oscar® nominated documentaries Jesus Camp and Trouble the Water. New film seasons include Artists Film Club, the inaugural New British Cinema Season (June 2009) which presented a context and focus for new film-makers working in the UK today and Films We Love a selection of 14 essential films spanning almost every genre.