MCA celebrates 50th with Janelle Monae, a blockbuster exhibition and Chicago A-listers

Some of the biggest names in Chicago’s social scene gathered at the MCA on Saturday, June 3, for Art Edge 50, a gala to kick-off the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 50th anniversary and to open the highly anticipated Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg exhibition. Guests enjoyed an exclusive first look at the exhibition which marks Mr. Murakami’s first museum retrospective in North America in 10 years and features a never-before-seen monumental masterpiece.

A special video message opened the program from the event’s musical curator, Pharrell Williams. He introduced his friend and celebrity performer Janelle Monáe, hot off of her 2017 Academy Award win for Best Picture in Moonlight. Monáe, decked out in her signature colors of black and white, performed a set of some of her top hits. During her performance Monáe said, “If you support artists, you support freedom.”

Arriving guests were delighted to be greeted by the artist of the exhibition Takashi Murakami. In the MCA’s Kovler Atrium, colorful sculptures featured oversized 50s that celebrated the museum’s anniversary. Partygoers then followed a path to Lake Shore Park just behind the museum where a massive tent—provided by HDO Productions—featured décor designed in partnership with Takashi Murakami and created by Heffernan Morgan. There, guests enjoyed dinner and dessert before the concert.

The Murakami-inspired décor inside the tent featured one-of-a-kind light fixtures – scaled 10 feet tall and 24-feet wide – adorned with octopus imagery that Murakami designed exclusively for his exhibition debut. Wrapped with spectacular, swirling pink tentacles, the fixtures appeared as a continuation of the octopus takeover on the front windows of the museum and throughout the city.

Guests enjoyed caipirinha cocktails with dragon fruit garnish and Murakami-inspired hors d’oeuvres that included sushi rolls playfully displayed with edible octopus.

The evening’s program included a commemorative 50th Anniversary video that celebrated the founders of the MCA, including Beatrice C. Mayer, who was in attendance. To conclude the evening, guests acted as live performance artists decorating celebratory birthday cakes for the MCA’s anniversary.

MCA Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn said, “We are celebrating the visionary group of Chicagoans who, 50 years ago, decided that our amazing city needed a contemporary art museum. We also are celebrating the museum’s redesign, a project that propels us into the next 50 years. And of course, how better to mark this wonderful occasion than by debuting this unparalleled, absolutely stunning exhibition.”

Notable guests at the gala included Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago’s First Lady Amy Rule, Leslie Bluhm and David Helfand, Nancy and Steven Crown, Marc Ecko, Dr. Julius Few, Ikram and Josh Goldman, Katherine Chez Malkin and Judd Malkin, Desiree Rogers, Michael and Cari Sacks; artists Hebru Brantley, Nick Cave, Theaster Gates and Kerry James Marshall and gallerists Larry Gagosian, Easy Otabor, Emmanuel Perrotin, Jeff Poe and Tim Blum.

Co-chaired by Marlene Breslow-Blitstein and Berle Blitstein, Helyn Goldenberg and Michael Alper, James Litinsky and Pamela Netzky and Ashley Hemphill-Netzky, the event raised $3 million with proceeds benefiting future MCA exhibitions, performances, and education programming.

( Photos by Maria Ponce, Maggie Rife Ponce and Mysi Anne Grubbe and Braxton Black for Jeremy Lawson)

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