“Whenever Wednesdays” at the Institute for Contemporary Art

Bryn Mawr film prof. Homai King discussing her new book on Orientalism in cinema at ICA

The Philadelphia Institute for Contemporary Art (“ICA”), located at 118 South 36th street on Penn’s campus in University City, is a nationally recognized museum dedicated to exhibiting innovative painting, art, and sculpture by contemporary (i.e., living) artists.  Founded in 1963, the museum gave Andy Warhol his first museum exhibition, and continues to have a reputation for identifying emerging bright stars in the art world.  The ICA is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but stays open until 8pm on Wednesdays for “Whenever Wednesdays,” a rotating series of lectures, discussions, and screenings, usually connected somehow with the current exhibits. The best part? It’s FREE! That means that you’ll have plenty of cash left to indulge in a drink or a bite at a spot nearby, like the cozy and popular White Dog Cafe.

How cheap we talkin’: Admission is FREE! The rest is up to you. Besides, White Dog, other fun watering holes near the ICA include POD and the World Cafe Live.

Why this will impress your date: You might be seeing the next Andy Warhol!

Score extra points: By reading up on the exhibition beforehand and asking a question during the Q&A. You will look brave, smart, and articulate all at once.  That’s what I call a power move.

The inside game: The discussions are usually followed by a brief reception, complete with complimentary wine, cheese, and other snacks. If you want to be that cheap.

Next date: Wednesday! Check here for the schedule of upcoming events.

The ICA building a sheek modern structure, built in 1990 and designed by MIT dean of Architecture, Adele Naude Santos.  Its glass walls filter in light from the south and west, and there’s an outdoor terrace on the second floor that is open for special events. It’s a relatively small museum, and there’s no permanent collection; new exhibits are shown three times a year, with 12 shows annually. The exhibits are usually closed by the time Whenever Wednesday ends (it starts at 6:30pm), so make sure to show up a little early if you want to see the whole museum.

The exhibition "Set Pieces" is showing through Feb 13th, 2011

Whenever Wednesday events are held on the first floor, past the reception desk and the restrooms.  The chairs are flimsy and folding, and not particularly comfortable, but the space itself feels friendly and intimate.  The speaker sits on a small stage with the moderators or other guests, and the night’s topic is usually introduced by someone from the museum before the discussion commences. The conversational panel format is meant to be accessible to everyone, but in truth vacillates between totally riveting and thoroughly incomprehensible (depending, largely, on how many eager art students are in the audience). For someone like myself, an art appreciator, but not an aficionado in any real sense, a lot of the discussion was too technical and referential, but it was never dull. There is something very inspiring and invigorating about being in a room with a bunch of people who are passionate, interested, and educated about the topic of the day. And being able to actually hear an artist talk about his or her process or inspiration is one of the true perks of dealing in contemporary art. At least that’s what I took away from the lecture my date and I saw recently with Erin Shirreff, an exciting young sculptor whose first museum exhibition Still, Flat, Far closed in December.

After a great discussion, we spilled with the crowd back into the entryway where we mingled in the lobby and picked at cheese, olives, and pita points while sipping wine from plastic glasses. Shortly after 8pm, the museum staff started herding people gently toward the door. We decided to make the short walk around the corner to White Dog cafe, a long-time University City establishment located at 3420 Sansom Street (between 36th and 34th) that prides itself on its environmentally sustainable business practices and all organic and locally sourced menu.


Warm and inviting from the first step inside, we happily took up the corner spot at their large, square bar, and rid ourselves of our bulky coats on old-fashioned hooks along the wall. My date and I were only interested in their beer list that night, but White Dog is also known for its natural, nitrate-free hot dogs, which come in a number of combinations, all named after dog breeds, like “The Bloodhound” (chili dog,with cheddar cheese, scallions, and lime sour cream) or the “The Pomeranian” (Italian sausage with homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella, red onions, and basil).  For those less inclined to as messy or meaty of a meal, the bar menu also offers Italian pepper shooters with artichoke puree and red pepper aioli ($6) and soft pretzel bites ($5).

If you explore White Dog further, you will find a maze of small and charming dining rooms, each decorated uniquely.  (Fair warning, albeit delicious, if you venture past the bar to dine, you will no longer be in Cheap Date territory.)  Deep in a discussion of the relevance of form’s relative impact on function in relatively modern photography (or something like that), my date and I decided to stay right where we were, and order another round.


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