Retail Manager Egbert Vongmalaithong sat down to answer a few questions about his work at the ICA.
What’s your role at the ICA?
I’m overseeing the ICA’s retail. Before the opening there’s a lot of research to do, and I’ve modeled the shop to be more like a concept store. Once we are open I’ll be doing the buying, operations, and management of the shop. Currently I’m bringing in writing coming from emerging artists, such as Juliana Huxtable, Wu Tsang and Brontez Purnell, and I’m working with local artists to produce product lines exclusive to the ICA.
What do you think will be the most important part of the ICA retail experience?
The most important part is that it’s an extension of the ICA mission and brand, so it’s not going to be a gift shop. It will act as a space centered on the circulation of discourse. We are bringing in art writing from artists with unique voices and maybe some unpopular opinions, but that’s important for creating challenging conversations—which is an overlap of shop mission with the ICA mission.
What kinds of things will be in the shop?
The shop is committed to critical art writing but will also sell home goods, art objects, accessories and clothing. I’m looking into exclusively made products for the ICA that will be put into production with collaborators. In my conversation with these collaborators, I ask them to inform their process with a list of prompts: for example, “Create a new shape for the world,” “Respond to capitalism informed by the waste in your nearest alley,” “When does art happen?” The goal is to create something honest, bold and irreverent.
What were you doing before you came to the ICA and how did those experiences inform what you’re doing here?
I went to school for sculpture at VCU, and before the ICA I was working at Need Supply Co, which is a high-end retail business. This marriage of art and business is something that’s really new and exciting for me. It definitely helps that I understand some of the language that comes from the art world and from art school. I want to use that experience to represent topics that aren’t really discussed in school–like an alternative curriculum.
What is the biggest challenge of your job?
The biggest challenge right now is switching back and forth between thinking conceptually and thinking as a business. I’ll be generating a lot of ideas that get me excited at my desk and then I switch it back to a business point of view and think, “OK, well, like how sustainable is this when it comes to profit margins and all that.” It’s also exciting because the first year will be experimental.
What does contemporary art mean to you?
I think contemporary art takes some time to experience and connects us with the unfamiliar. There’s an artist, Gordon Hall, who said the job of an artist is to flip something over and reveal potential. I think there are really literal ways that happens in art and sometimes it’s a slower process. Contemporary art is also something that makes people ask questions. It’s not always to make you feel happy, but it should affect you in some way. It should help you to navigate the world more actively and curiously.
What are you most excited about?
I’m really excited about working and collaborating with artists and vendors to come up with exclusive product for the store. And, to keep reading and curating the exciting work that’s coming out of small presses and independent artists.