Institute of Cultural Inquiry

Non-profit organization in Los Angeles, California, United States

The Institute of Cultural Inquiry (ICI) is a non-profit organization located in Los Angeles, California. Its mission is "to educate the public about the visual methods used in society to describe and discuss cultural phenomena." The ICI has sponsored art research, art creation in multiple media, projects, symposia, and publications related to its major areas of interest, which include the AIDS pandemic, obsolete technologies, and marginal cultural figures.



The ICI was founded by Los Angeles-based artist and curator Lise Patt (1955–2019), together with a core group of ICI Associates who have assisted in the planning, implementation, and archiving of ICI projects. Since Patt's death in 2019, the ICI has been dormant, and as of late June 2021 it no longer occupies its long-time home at 1512 S. Robertson Blvd. in Los Angeles.

The Institute of Cultural Inquiry had two long-running projects that addressed the global AIDS/HIV pandemic. For the AIDS Bottle Project, which began in the 1980s and continued into the early 1990s, the ICI created unique glass bottles memorializing Americans in the arts and art-related fields who died from complications due to HIV/AIDS. Each bottle has an individual's name and year of death etched on the glass and a short biography printed under the lid; the bottles could be left empty or could serve as receptacles for personal memorabilia. The bottles have been publicly displayed at or outside such venues as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New Museum (New York), and the New York Public Library. Afterwards, many of the bottles were given away free to members of the public.

The ICI's second long-running AIDS-related project was the AIDS Chronicles, which spanned the years 1993-2014. For this project, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018, the front pages of the New York Times were collected. These pages were then painted over in dark red, leaving visible only information pertaining to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Artists were commissioned to bind each year's set of 365 or 366 pages into a unique edition. On World AIDS Day, the ICI typically displayed the most recent year's loose pages as a wall installation, together with the bound edition of the prior year, creating a visual record of the ebb and flow of attention to the subject on the part of one of the most influential newspapers in the United States.

In addition to sponsoring such projects, the ICI housed some permanent exhibits as well as an archive and a library that were open to the public by appointment. Among the permanent exhibits were:

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