Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago celebrates 50 with a vibrant new look

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago celebrates 50 with a vibrant new look
A dramatic new staircase that honors the MCA’s original iconic staircase,Photo: Kendall McCaugherty – Hall+Merrick Photographers, © MCA Chicago

“Johnston Marklee understands the strength of our Josef Paul Kleihues-designed building, and they carry a deep respect of history throughout their architectural practice." Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago 

Los Angeles-based architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee (JML) have completed a major redesign of select public spaces of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) as part of a major $16-million renovation that converted 12,000 square feet of interior space coinciding with the MCA’s 50th anniversary.

Architect Sharon Johnston says, “We wanted the redesign to respect the history of the building’s grid-based rationalism but create a more natural flow that offers new opportunities for how audiences can interact with the new spaces. Our approach focused on the visitor and the reciprocity between galleries and communal areas that blurs their boundaries and produces more active, multi-use spaces through the building. The idea is that the new spaces can be redefined by artists and audiences over time and will add a lightness and warmth to the building.”

Here's a look at some of the highlights:

Photo: Kendall McCaugherty – Hall+Merrick Photographers, © MCA Chicago

Photo: Kendall McCaugherty – Hall+Merrick Photographers, © MCA Chicago

Marisol, the ground-floor destination restaurant headed by Jason Hammel (the chef behind Lula Cafe in Logan Square), features an immersive art environment by international artist Chris Ofili. The centerpiece is Ofili's mural, "The Sorceress’ Mirror at Marisol' that sets the tone with the color theme carried out on the furnishings and wispy window treatments. The restaurant, that features a full bar, is named after the French-Venezuelan sculptor Maria Sol Escobar--a fixture of the New York art scene in the 1960s alongside Andy Warhol. Her 1968 sculpture “Six Women” was the first piece acquired for the MCA's permanent collection. 

The menu, in part, inspired by Marisol's cookbook, “Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Cookbook,” features updated versions of some of her favorites including the Marison Salad ($13) and the Marisol Sandwich--a steak and egg combo. 

MCA Commons. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

MCA Commons. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The Commons, on the second floor, serves as a social engagement space. The opening exhibition, Edra Soto’s Open 24 Hours inaugurates a new series of temporary installations and participatory artist projects in the space. Fittingly, Soto’s project is about public spaces, particularly the parks and brown fields in her neighborhood of Garfield Park where she collected the "urban art" liquor bottles on walks with her dog.

Installation by Pedro y Juana. Photo: Jodie Jacobs

Installation by Pedro y Juana. Photo: Jodie Jacobs

Every detail of the redesign has been given special attention. One such "showstopper" is the innovative  multipurpose furniture by Pedro y Juana that created a lot of buzz. The tables and chairs can be reconfigured into a variety of forms or just hung up on the permanent hooks on the wall to create an open environment.

Pedro y Juana are best known in Chicago for Dear Randolph (2015) at the Chicago Cultural Center that features a network of movable lamps, rocking chairs, tables, and a wall tapestry that was created for the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Photo: Kendall McCaugherty – Hall+Merrick Photographers, © MCA Chicago

Photo: Kendall McCaugherty – Hall+Merrick Photographers, © MCA Chicago

Another inviting space, called The Street, on the museum's first floor at the Pearson St. entrance offers the community a place to gather and share ideas, grab a cup of coffee or a quick bite to eat with free Wi-Fi and communal tables. The Street adjoins the Marisol restaurant.

Ernesto Neto, Water Falls from My Breast to the Sky, 2017.

Ernesto Neto, Water Falls from My Breast to the Sky, 2017.

Ernesto Neto’s installation (above) that is located beside the new grand staircase transforms the most Instagrammed feature of the MCA—the almond-shaped north staircase—into a serene vortex. The oversized, aqua-colored net stretches heavenward, from the ground floor to our building’s fourth-floor oculus. Climb inside, lie on the scented cushions, look up, and think about our interconnectedness and transcendence.

Other new spaces include a third floor classroom and an elegant new vaulted ceiling that recalls the barrel vaults in the fourth-floor galleries. 

Of course the main purpose of the building is to house contemporary art and exhibitions. The centerpiece of the 50th anniversary, We Are Here, does this beautifully. The major three-part exhibition drawn from the MCA’s significant collection of contemporary masterworks explores how contemporary art and culture have the power to change the way we see the world focusing on how contemporary artists critique the world around them. (Now through January 28, 2018).

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