Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

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Since the 1960s, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago has been the mid-west’s premier purveyor of post-WWII art. With five stories and over 45,000 square feet of exhibit space, MCA is one of the largest facilities in the world dedicated to contemporary art as well as a cultural center for performance in the downtown Chicago area. It is an art lover’s ultimate Chi-town must-see.

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Museum of Contemporary Art History

The story of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago begins in the home of art critic Doris Lane Butler back in 1964. With the aim to create an exhibition space to compliment the esteemed Art Institute of Chicago, Butler gathered 30 art critics, collectors, and dealers from around the area to join her in the effort. The result was the naming of Jan van der Marck as director and the designation of a small area at 237 East Ontario Street for what was, at the time, an institution dedicated to temporary exhibitions.

However, as the 20th century progressed and more contemporary art gathered, the need for a larger, purpose-built space dedicated to both permanent and temporary exhibits became apparent. In 1991, the Board of Trustees began the search for that space and an architect to design it; it would be the first new museum structure built in the city of Chicago in 65 years. The Board conducted a year-long search, reviewed over 200 proposals, and eventually selected German-born Josef Paul Kleihues to design the $55 million building.

Located at 220 East Chicago Ave, the new MCA was constructed from the bottom, up on the site of the old Chicago National Guard Armory. The new MCA building is five stories tall with over 45,000 square feet of gallery space as well as a 300-seat performance theatre, classrooms, education center, store, café, and sculpture garden. When it opened in a special 24-hour event on 21-22 June 1996, it was the largest structure dedicated to contemporary art in the world. It was also notable as one of the most beautiful of Chicago’s many architectural masterpieces. It has a prominent staircase leading to a raised first level, open concept atrium featuring a glass façade on both the east and west ends. This façade looks upon the city and Lake Michigan respectively.

Since the opening of the new building, the collection of CMA has grown substantially. Today, the museum is home to over 2,700 objects and 3,000 artists books created from 1945 through the present. Notable pieces at CMA include Andy Warhol’s Jackie Frieze (1964), Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait (1949), and Kara Walker’s massive piece, 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). Upon its 40th anniversary in 2008, the museum also acquired a number of gift pieces from 21st century artists and envisions its future as a hybrid area to showcase artist achievement and a beacon of audience engagement with that art.

Museum of Contemporary Art: The Main Attraction

A trip to the massive building that houses the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago can be a real treat in itself as the architectural design is as much as focus as the art inside it. Though it is closed each Monday, MCA is open throughout the year. Admission is free to residents of Illinois each Tuesday and group rates are offered for parties of 10 or more as well as students and seniors. Children under 12 are admitted free, but must be accompanied by an adult.

The MCA offers free tours daily which highlight the best pieces and areas of the museum. Lasting approximately 45 minutes, they are available on a first come, first served basis. Audio tours and podcasts are also available through a borrowed iPod or download to a personal device.

MCA is known as much for its programs and special exhibits as for its permanent collection. Indeed, they offer a bevy of cultural options at the 300-seat theatre including film viewing and talks, along with specialized tours and family days dedicated to making all forms of contemporary art together.

Why the Museum of Contemporary Art is a Must-See

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago is a truly unique space dedicated to the art of our time and the active creation of it today. One of the largest museums of its kind in the country, MCA offers its visitors a chance to view art while also engaging in the contemporary process which will influence its future collection. With activities for art lovers as well as families, it is an excellent cultural addition to any Chicago experience.

Where to Buy Museum of Contemporary Art Tickets

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

Save up to 20% online at Smart Destinations. If you add more than one attraction to the cart, you will get an automatic savings of up to 20%. It’s called Make Your Own Pass.

Pay Full Price and purchase a ticket from Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago either online or in person.

Purchase a Tourist pass. The Museum of Contemporary Art is available on the Go Chicago Card.