When the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston learned that “visitors wanted more encounters with art”, it began “experimenting with ways to deliver”, says its director, Jill Medvedow. The waterfront museum found a solution in a working shipyard located on the opposite side of Boston Harbour, turning a dilapidated former copper pipe and sheet metal facility into a satellite space for immersive projects. The Watershed is due to open to the public on Independence Day (4 July).
The seasonal space, which will close for the year on Columbus Day (8 October), is only a six-minute ferry ride across the harbour from the ICA. “People will be able to see both [venues] in one visit, as well as experience the boat ride,” Medvedow says. The Watershed, unlike the ICA, will have free entry.
The museum has taken a ten-year renewable lease on the building and given it a $5m makeover by the local firm Anmahian Winton Architects. The single-storey, 15,000 sq. ft building now houses a space for public programming, an “orientation gallery” on the history of the shipyard’s East Boston neighbourhood and a massive space for immersive artists’ projects.
The inaugural show goes to the artist Diana Thater, who is reconfiguring two earlier works for the Watershed, including Delphine (1999/2018), an interactive video installation that puts viewers in the perspective of a diver surrounded by dolphins. Visitors “will feel as if they are underwater themselves, as a way to think about both the beauty and the vulnerability of the ocean”, Medvedow says. Thater has also created a new colour installation on the skylights running the 300ft length of the building.
In future, the ICA plans to commission new works for the Watershed that respond to its industrial and marine environment. “I think that the immersiveness and the responsiveness of the art is what will distinguish [the space] from the ICA,” Medvedow says. “It’s got a lot of rawness left.”