Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: Wikis


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Museum of Contemporary Art
Established 1967
(current location since 1996)
Location 220 East Chicago Avenue,
Chicago, Illinois 60611-2643
United States
Director Madeleine Grynsztejn

The Museum of Contemporary Art, often abbreviated to MCA, 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 current location at 220 East Chicago Avenue is in the Streeterville neighborhood of the Near North Side community area.[1] The current building was designed by Josef Paul Kleihues after a funding drive spearheaded by major contributions by its own board members. The museum moved to the new building in 1996; it was originally located at 237 East Ontario Street. The building is known for its long staircase leading to an elevated ground floor which has an atrium the full glass-walled front and back giving a see through view to Lake Michigan.

It 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 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 interdisciplinary arts.



Map of MCA (southeast of Water Tower Place and the John Hancock Center) along Chicago Avenue
Stairwell in the new museum building, designed by Josef Paul Kleihues.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) was created as a 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 modern art to complement the city's Art Institute of Chicago, according to a grand opening story in Time.[2] It opened in Fall 1967 in a small space at 237 East Ontario Street that had previously been built as a bakery and for a time had served as the corporate offices of Playboy Enterprises.[3] Its first director was Jan van der Marck.

Initially, the museum was conceived primarily as a space for temporary exhibitions, in the German Kunsthalle model. However, in 1974, the museum began acquiring a permanent collection of contemporary art objects created after 1945.[4] The MCA expanded into adjacent buildings to increase gallery space; and in 1977, following a fund raising drive for its 10th anniversary, a three-story neighboring townhouse was purchased, renovated and connected to the museum.[3]

In 1991, the Museum's Board of Trustees contributed $37 million ($57.9 million in current dollar terms) of the expected $55 million ($86 million) construction costs for Chicago's first new museum building in 65 years.[5] Six of the board members contributed at total of $20 million as major donors: Jerome Stone (chairman emeritus of Stone Container Corporation), Beatrice Mayer (daughter of Sara Lee Corporation founder Nathan Cummings) and family, Paul and Camille Oliver-Hoffmann (real estate), Lindy Bergman, the Neison Harris (president of Pittway Corporation) and Irving Harris families and Thomas and Frances Dittmer (commodities).[6][7] They then weighed architectural proposals from six finalists: Emilio Ambasz of New York; Tadao Ando of Osaka, Japan; Josef Paul Kleihues of Berlin; Fumihiko Maki of Tokyo; Morphosis of Santa Monica, Calif., and Christian de Portzamparc of Paris.[6] 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 finalist 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 done 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 rather than sketches and models.[8]

1st Cavalry Illinois National Guard new armory building
from right (1919)
from left (1919)

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.[9] The new museum, which opened on July 2, 1996, was designed by Josef Paul Kleihues. The four-story 220,000-square-foot (20,000 m2) building,[10] was five time larger than its predecessor,[11] made the Museum of Contemporary Art the largest institution devoted to contemporary art in the world.[12] The physical structure is said to reference the modernism of Mies van der Rohe as well as the tradition of Chicago architecture.[4]


The museum operates as a tax-exempt non-profit organization and its exhibitions, programming, and operations are member supported and privately funded.[13] It has a board of trustees consisting of four officers, eighteen life trustees, and over forty other trustees.[14] At the end of the 2008 fiscal year, Helen Zell passed the board chairmanship to Mary Ittelson.[15] The museum also has a director, who oversees the MCA's staff. Madeleine Grynsztejn replaced 10-year director Robert Fitzpatrick during the 2008 fiscal year in this capacity.[16]

The museum operates with three departments: curatorial, performance and education. In 2008, the museum reported $17 million in both operating income, 49% of which comes from contribution, and operating expenses.[17] Contributions were received from individuals, corporations, foundations, and government entities.[18]

The museum is closed on Mondays. While the museum has no mandatory admission charge and operates with a suggested admission, it currently provides free admission every Tuesday, when it has extended hours of operation.[19] During the summers, the museum provides free outdoor Tuesday Jazz concerts.[20] On Fridays, the Museum hosts First Fridays at the MCA, which is a weekly happy hour.[21] In addition to art exhibits, the museum offers dance, theater, music, and interdisciplinary arts. The programming includes primary projects and festivals of a broad spectrum of artists presented in performance, discussion and workshop formats.[22]


Short Cut,[23] 2003 by Elmgreen and Dragset


In its first year of operation, the museum hosted two exhibitions, "Pictures To Be Read/Poetry To Be Seen" and "Claes Oldenburg: Projects for Monuments." In 1969, the museum served as the site for Christo's first building wrap in the United States. It was wrapped in more than 8,000 square feet (700 m²) of tarpaulin and rope.[24] 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. It hosted the first U.S. exhibitions of Frida Kahlo in 1978[4] and Antoni Tapies in 1977.[25] Other highlights of its history include the first solo museum shows of Dan Flavin,[26] in 1967,[25] and Jeff Koons,[27] in 1988.[25] In 1989, the MCA hosted Robert Mapplethorpe, The Perfect Moment, a traveling exhibition put together by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. This exhibition set a record for the highest attendance in the institution's history.[3]


The MCA also plays host to more recently active artists. The museum features a monthly 12 x 12: New Artists/New Work exhibition series, featuring up-and-coming Chicago artists. In 2006, the MCA was the only American museum to host Bruce Mau's Massive Change exhibit, concerning the social, economic and political effects of design. Other recent exhibits have 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.[28][29] This was the culminating exhibit of the 2008 fiscal year,[30] which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the museum.[31]

Recurring program

Starting in 2002, the MCA instituted an annual program in which artists and architects are commissioned to design and construct public art for the front plaza. The goal of the program is to link the Museum to its neighboring community by extending its programmatic, educational and outreach functions.[32]

New structure

The new five-storey limestone and aluminum structure was designed by Berlin architect Josef Paul Kleihues. The new building contains 45,000 square feet (4,200 m2) of gallery space (seven times the space of the old museum), an auditorium/theater, and a sculpture garden.[4] The MCA building was Kliehues' first American structure. Its construction cost US$46.5 million ($63.2 million in current dollar terms).[33] The sculpture garden, which is 34,000 square feet (3,200 m2),[10] began with ginkgo trees, blooming rhododendrons and clematis vines.[33]

The building's entrance, which is accessed by scaling 32 steps, uses both symmetry and transparency as themes for its large central glass walls that pair the front and back of the building. The main level entry hall has an adjacent 55-foot (16.8 m) atrium that connects it to a restaurant in the rear of the building. The atrium is flanked by two galleries for temporary exhibitions. The lobby, atrium, restaurant and flanking exhibition halls composing the first floor have concrete floors. The stairwell in the northwest corner is considered to be the buildings most interesting and dynamic artistic feature. The elevated views of Lake Michigan are considered to be a rewarding feature of the building.[24] The building's 56-foot (17.1 m) glass facade sits atop 16 feet (4.9 m) of Indiana limestone.[34] The building is known for its hand-cast aluminum panels adjoined to the facade with stainless steel buttons.[24][34] Flanking the outdoor staircase is a pair of plinths for sculpture display.[35] The builing has two-storey temporary galleries on the second floor and permanent collection galleries on the fourth floor.[24][34]

The museum has a 296-seat multi-use theater with a proscenium-layout stage. The seats are laid out in 14 rows with two side aisles. The stage is 52 by 34 feet (16 m × 10 m) and elevated 36 inches (91 cm) above the floor level of the first row of seats. The house has a 12 degree incline. The stage has three curtains and four catwalks.[36]

Critical review

Complaining that the structure has more fortress-like exterior than its predecessor, Kamin viewed the architectural attempt as a fumbled work. However, he considered the interior to be serene and contemplative in a manner that complements the contemporary art and compact and organized in a manner that is an improvement on the more traditional mazelike museums.[24] Comparing the building to the Sullivan Center and the Art Institute of Chicago Building, Kamin describes the museum as an homage to two of Chicago's archtectural influences: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan.[24] Other critics also note the presence of Mies van der Rohe's spirit in the architecture.[35]

Another critic has described the building as stark, intimidating and "incongruous with contemporary sensibilities".[32] However, praising the dominant front staircase that elevates visitors, another critic views this building with its formal yet somber exterior as a recapturing of the high ground for modern art exhibition after the "fall of art" when the original Museum of Modern Art structure was unveiled in 1939. The interior atrium which the architect claims links the city to the lake is part of a trancendent space that benefiting from the sunlight availed by the high glass walls. The building said to be designed to separate the art from other distracting services and functions of the venue.[35] Kamin was also pleased with the separate entrances on the main floor for the museum store and accessibility entrances.[24]


Polychrome and Horizontal Bluebird, 1991
In Memory of My Feelings - Frank O'Hara, 1995

At the time of its 1996 opening, the Museum claimed 7,000 objects, including works by Marcel Duchamp, Bruce Nauman, and Alfredo Jaar.[10] Today, the museum's collection consists of 2,345 objects, as well as about 2,500 artist's books. The collection includes visual art from 1945 to the present.[37] The collection includes work by artists from Lee Bontecou to Robert Smithson.

A narrative of the museum's collection has been provided by Elizabeth Smith.[38] It describes the collection as having strong "...historical examples of late surrealism, pop art, minimalism, and conceptual art from the 1940s through the 1970s; important holdings of work from the 1980s that can be loosely grouped under the rubric of postmodernism; and growing coherence within the plurality of directions in painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, and related media today’s artists explore."[39]

Other notable works in the museum's collection include:

During the 2008 fiscal year the MCA Celebrated its 40th anniversary, which inspired gifts of works from 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.[31]

See also


  1. ^ AreaG2 Address- Museum of Contemporary Art
  2. ^ "Museums: Contemporary in Chicago". Time. 1967-11-03.,9171,837470,00.html. Retrieved 2009-10-15.  
  3. ^ a b c Museum of Contemporary Art Website. "History of the MCA". Retrieved 2006-12-21.  
  4. ^ a b c d Kirshner, Judith Russi. "Museum of Contemporary Art". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved 2009-08-21.  
  5. ^ "Trustees lead effort to build art museum". Chicago Sun-Times. 1991-01-30. Retrieved 2009-08-23.  
  6. ^ a b Gillespie, Mary (1991-01-29). "Trustees endow success of a new art museum". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-08-23.  
  7. ^ Gillespie, Mary (1991-01-29). "Donors cite need for new art museum". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-08-23.  
  8. ^ Kamin, Blair (1991-01-29). "Museum Shuns City Architects". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-08-23.  
  9. ^ Eds. Grossman, James R., Keating, Ann Durkin, and Reiff, Janice L., 2004 Encyclopedia of Chicago, p. 39. The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-31015-9
  10. ^ a b c Bianchi, Laura (1996-07-01). "'Noble and modest' - That was the architect's vision for the new Museum of Contemporary- Art . Even by his own modest account, he has succeeded". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2009-05-16.  
  11. ^ Artner, Alan G. (1996-06-30). "Bigger Not Better - 10 Years In Coming, The New MCA Shows More Of The Same Presentations". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-05-16.  
  12. ^ Holg, Garrett (1996-12-29). "Wonder walls - New museum , fascinating shows mark year in art". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-05-16.  
  13. ^ "About the MCA". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2009-09-17.  
  14. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008:Board of Trustees". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-09-16.  
  15. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008:Letter From The Chair". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-09-16.  
  16. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008:Letter From The Director". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-09-16.  
  17. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008:Financial Information". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-09-16.  
  18. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008:A Year of Support". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-09-17.  
  19. ^ "General Visitor Information". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2009-05-08.  
  20. ^ "Tuesdays on the Terrace". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2009-09-17.  
  21. ^ "First Fridays". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-08-31.  
  22. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008:Performance Report". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-09-17.  
  23. ^ "MCA Collection Highlights: Elmgreen and Dragset". Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset/Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. 2005. Retrieved 2008-06-20.  
  24. ^ a b c d e f g Kamin, Blair (2001). "A Fumbled Chance At Greatness:The Museum of Contemporary Art Tries but Fails To Extend Chicago's History of Design Triumps". Why architecture matters: lessons from Chicago. University of Chicago Press. pp. 142–145. ISBN 9780226423210.  
  25. ^ a b c "History of the MCA". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2007-02-06.  
  26. ^ His first solo show was at the Judson Gallery, New York, in 1961. (
  27. ^ His first solo exhibition was a 1980 window installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York
  28. ^ Conrad, Marissa (December 2008). "The Innovator". Chicago Social (Chicago, Illinois): 140.  
  29. ^ "Jeff Koons". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-01-13.  
  30. ^ "Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008:2008 Exhibition list". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-09-16.  
  31. ^ a b "Museum of Contemporary Art Annual Report Fiscal Year 2008:Curatorial Report". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-09-16.  
  32. ^ a b Garofalo, Douglas (2003). "Between the museum and the city". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. pp. 11–18. Retrieved 2009-10-18.  
  33. ^ a b Rodkin, Dennis (1996-06-30). "Plants Act As Colorful 'Gallery' Walls For Sculpture In New MCA Garden". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-05-16.  
  34. ^ a b c McBrien, Judith Paine (2004). "Museum of Contemporary Art". Pocket guide to Chicago architecture. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 47. ISBN 9780393731552.  
  35. ^ a b c LeBlanc, Sydney (2000). The architecture traveler: a guide to 250 key 20th century American buildings. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 224. ISBN 9780393730500.  
  36. ^ "Technical Overview". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2009-09-17.  
  37. ^ Museum of Contemporary Art Website. "MCA Collection Highlights". Retrieved 2009-05-16.  
  38. ^ Smith, Elizabeth (2003). "Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain: Selected Works from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Retrieved 2009-05-16.  
  39. ^ "Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain: Selected Works from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago". Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. 2005. Retrieved 2009-05-16.  
  40. ^ "Calder, Alexander". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2007-02-05.  
  41. ^ "Close, Chuck". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2007-02-05.  
  42. ^ "Johns, Jasper". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2007-02-05.  
  43. ^ "Bacon, Francis". Museum of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2007-02-05.  

External links

Coordinates: 41°53′50″N 87°37′16″W / 41.8972°N 87.6212°W / 41.8972; -87.6212


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