Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

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The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago is a contemporary art museum near Water Tower Place in downtown Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, United States. The museum, which was established in 1967, is one of the world's largest contemporary art venues. The museum's collection is composed of thousands of objects of Post-World War II visual art.

The museum has hosted several notable debut exhibitions including Frida Kahlo's first U.S. exhibition and Jeff Koons' first solo museum exhibition. Koons later presented an exhibit at the Museum that established the museum's current attendance record for an exhibition. Its collection, which includes Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker, and Alexander Calder, contains historical samples of 1940s–1970s late surrealism, pop art, minimalism, and conceptual art; notable holdings 1980s postmodernism; as well as contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, and related media. The museum also presents dance, theater, music, and multidisciplinary arts.

The current location at 220 East Chicago Avenue is in the Streeterville neighborhood of the Near North Side community area. Josef Paul Kleihues designed the current building after the museum conducted a 12-month search, reviewing more than 200 nominations. The museum opened at its new location June 21–22, 1996, with a 24-hour event that drew more than 25,000 visitors. The museum was originally located at 237 East Ontario Street, which was originally designed as a bakery. The building is known for its signature staircase leading to an elevated ground floor, which has an atrium, the full glass-walled east and west façades giving a direct view of the city and Lake Michigan.


The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago was created as the result of a 1964 meeting of 30 critics, collectors and dealers at the home of Critic Doris Lane Butler to bring the long-discussed idea of a museum of contemporary art to complement the city's Art Institute of Chicago, according to a grand opening story in Time. It opened in fall 1967 in a small space at 237 East Ontario Street that had for a time served as the corporate offices of Playboy Enterprises. The MCA expanded into adjacent buildings to increase gallery space; and in 1977, following a fundraising drive for its 10th anniversary, a three-story neighboring townhouse was purchased, renovated, and connected to the museum. According to Chicago Tribune Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin, the list of contenders was controversial because no Chicago-based architects were included as finalists despite the fact that prominent Chicago architects such as Helmut Jahn and Stanley Tigerman were among the 23 semi-finalists. In fact, none of the finalists had made any prior structures in Chicago. The selection process, which started with 209 contenders, was based on professional qualifications, recent projects, and the ability to work closely with the staff of the aspiring museum.

In 1996, the MCA opened its current museum at 220 East Chicago Avenue, which was the site of a former National Guard Armory between Lake Michigan and Michigan Avenue from 1907 until it was demolished in 1993 to make way for the MCA. The four-story 220000 sqft building designed by Josef Paul Kleihues, The curatorial staff consists of Chief Curator Michael Darling, Curator Naomi Beckwith, Curator Lynne Warren, and Associate Curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm. In 2009, the museum reported $17.5 million in both operating income, 50% of which came from contributions, and operating expenses. Contributions were received from individuals, corporations, foundations, government entities, and fundraising.

The museum is closed Mondays. While the museum has no mandatory admission charge and operates with a suggested admission ($12 general, $7 students and seniors, free for MCA members, members of the military, and children 12 and under), it currently provides free admission every Tuesday, when it has extended hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. During the summers, the museum provides free outdoor Tuesday Jazz concerts. On the first Friday of most months, the museum hosts First Fridays, which is an event featuring local DJs, artists, and other activities. In addition to art exhibits, the museum offers dance, theater, music, and multidisciplinary arts. The programming includes primary projects and festivals of a broad spectrum of artists presented in performance, discussion, and workshop formats.



In its first year of operation, the museum hosted the exhibitions, Pictures To Be Read/Poetry To Be Seen, Claes Oldenburg: Projects for Monuments, and Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold, which was the artist's first solo show. The following year it hosted one-person shows for Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol.

The MCA has also played host to the first American and solo exhibitions of prominent artists such as Frida Kahlo Other exhibition highlights include the first solo museum shows of Dan Flavin, in 1967, Additional highlights of exhibitions organized or co-organized by the MCA include:

  • Enrico Baj (1971)
  • Chuck Close (1972)
  • Lee Bontecou (1972)
  • Richard Artschwager (1973)
  • Robert Irwin (1975)
  • Vito Acconci (1980)
  • Magdalena Abakanowicz (1982)
  • Lorna Simpson (1992)
  • Beverly Semmes (1995)
  • Mona Hatoum (1997)
  • Tom Friedman (2000)
  • John Currin (2003)
  • Rudolf Stingel (2007)


In 2006, the MCA was the only American museum to host Bruce Mau's Massive Change exhibit, which concerned the social, economic, and political effects of design. Additional 2006 exhibitions featured photographers Catherine Opie and Wolfgang Tillmans as well as Chicago-based cartoonist Chris Ware. The 2008 Koons retrospective broke the attendance record with 86,584 visitors for the May 31 – September 21, 2008 show. This was the culminating exhibit of the 2008 fiscal year, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the museum.

The museum announced its 2011-2012 performance season, which includes performances by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Tsukasa Taiko, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Teatr Zar of Poland. Notable past stage appearances include performances by Trisha Brown Dance Company, Abbey Theater of Ireland, Olafur Arnalds, and Elevator Repair Service.

New structure

The new five-story limestone and cast-aluminum structure was designed by Berlin architect Josef Paul Kleihues. The building, which opened in 1996, contains 45000 sqft of gallery space (seven times the space of the old museum), a theater, studio-classrooms, an education center, a museum store, a restaurant-café, and a sculpture garden. The sculpture garden, which is 34000 sqft, includes a sculptural installation by Sol LeWitt and sculptures by George Rickey and Jane Highstein. The floor plan of both the building and the sculpture garden is a square, on which the proportions of the building is based.

The building's main entrance, which is accessed by scaling 32 steps, uses both symmetry and transparency as themes for its large central glass walls that compose the majority of both the east and west façades of the building. Two additional entrances—into the education center and into the museum store—are located on either side of the main staircase. The monumental staircase with projecting bays and plinths that may be used as the base for sculpture is reminiscent of the propyleia of the Acropolis in Athens. The building is known for its hand-cast aluminum panels adjoined to the facade with stainless steel buttons.

Chicago-based architect Douglas Garofalo has described the building as stark, intimidating and "incongruous with contemporary sensibilities". The interior atrium, which the architect claims links the city to the lake is part of a transcendent space that benefits from the sunlight that enters through the high glass walls. The building is said to be designed to separate the art from other distracting services and functions of the venue.

Former MCA Chief Curator Elizabeth Smith provided a narrative of the museum's collection. She says the collection has examples of late surrealism, pop art, minimalism, and conceptual art from the 1940s through the 1970s; work from the 1980s that can be grouped under postmodernism; and painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, and related media current artists explore.

Notable Works

  • Study for a Portrait, 1949, by Francis Bacon
  • Les merveilles de la nature (The Wonders of Nature), 1953, René Magritte
  • Polychrome and Horizontal Bluebird, 1954, by Alexander Calder
  • In Memory of My Feelings - Frank O'Hara, 1961, by Jasper Johns
  • Retroactive II, 1963, by Robert Rauschenberg
  • Jackie Frieze, 1964, by Andy Warhol
  • Untitled, 1970, Donald Judd
  • Untitled Film Still, #14, 1978, by Cindy Sherman
  • Rabbit, 1986, by Jeff Koons
  • Cindy, 1988, by Chuck Close
  • Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage through the South and Reconfigured for the Benefit of Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such May Be Found, By Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker, Colored, 1997, by Kara Walker

During the 2008 fiscal year the MCA celebrated its 40th anniversary, which inspired gifts of works by artists such as Dan Flavin, Alfredo Jaar, and Thomas Ruff. Additionally, the museum expanded its collection by acquiring the work of some of the artists it presented during its anniversary celebration such as Carlos Amorales, Tony Oursler, and Adam Pendleton.

See also

  • Chicago architecture
  • Visual arts of Chicago
  • List of museums and cultural institutions in Chicago
  • Museum of Contemporary Art (disambiguation)
  • MCA Stage

External links