The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is located just one block east of Michigan Avenue and the historic Water Tower, and two blocks west of Lake Michigan. For over 50 years, the Museum of Contemporary Art has been dedicated to promoting the efforts of visionary contemporary artists working in a tremendous cross-section of genres and fostering an atmosphere of artistic appreciation. Its permanent collections—as well as its continually rotating special exhibitions—feature some of the most compelling and thought-provoking art created since World War II. No matter when you visit the MCA, you’re likely to come face-to-face with art that’s daring, exciting, and fascinating to contemplate.
Museum of Contemporary Art History and Background
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago was founded in 1967 with the goal of supporting the work of innovative emerging artists and encouraging artistic collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking. The MCA established its strong reputation in its first decade by putting on shows of work by legendary artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Marisol, as well as performances by Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, and more. The MCA established a permanent collection in 1974, and changed locations multiple times over the years as its needs and stature changed and grew.
The Museum of Contemporary Art came to its current location in 1996, when the striking building it occupies today first opened. Designed by the German architect Josef Paul Kleihues, this iconic structure fuses classical forms with modern materials. The MCA contains some 45,000 square feet of gallery space, a 300-seat theater, and an art library that holds over 18,000 volumes.
What’s at the Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is famous for the expansive breadth of its offerings. Though it does possess a permanent collection of approximately 2,500 works of art, the Museum of Contemporary does not typically display a significant number of these items. Instead, the focus here is on presenting rotating shows of cutting-edge work by renowned artists. As these shows turn over and completely change every couple months or so, it makes for a unique, ever-evolving museum experience at the MCA.
This also means that the Museum of Contemporary Art routinely highlights a tremendously diverse array of art. Depending on when you visit, it’s possible you could encounter installations of primarily sculpture, photography, painting, live performance, film—or something that encapsulates a little bit of everything! Free tours running about 45 minutes are given daily by a museum employee; just check the MCA’s website in advance of your visit for the most up-to-date tour schedule.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is also home to a critically acclaimed restaurant and bar called Marisol. This innovative space, done up in vivid and bright colors, is a warm and inviting spot to enjoy a drink and/or meal before or after touring the MCA. Marisol’s menu is on the pricey side, but features a wide range of choices. Here you can find everything from classic brunch plates to healthy lunch options to upscale dinner entrees; they also serve dessert and have regular happy-hour specials.
A number of additional amenities can be found at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The MCA Store sells a selection of terrific gift and/or souvenir possibilities; you’ll find there anything from art objects and coffee-table books to tea mugs, jewelry, t-shirts, and much more. The MCA also has a coat check, and provides complimentary wheelchairs for those who might require assistance during their visit.
Tips for Visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art
- The MCA is one of the included attractions on the Go Chicago Card. Visit 360 Chicago before the MCA and the Navy Pier Rides afterwards, all included on the card. It’s also also included on the Explorer Pass but at $15, it’s better to just pay admission.
- The Museum of Contemporary Art is open between the hours of 10:00am and 9:00pm on Tuesdays and Fridays, and between the hours of 10:00am and 5:00pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The MCA is closed on Mondays.
- Admission is free for anyone under the age of 18.
- The Museum of Contemporary Art regularly hosts a wide variety of special events, including artist forums, curator tours, live performances, and more. If you’re interested in learning what sorts of unique programs might be occurring during your visit, a schedule of upcoming events can be found online at the MCA’s website.
- For those visitors traveling via car, the Museum of Contemporary Art has its own parking garage on site. However, like all parking in downtown Chicago, the standard rates can be pretty steep, even for just a few hours. The MCA is also readily accessible via several different CTA buses, and the Chicago Avenue Red Line stop is only a few blocks away, too. You’ll even find bike racks near the museum’s entrance, if that option would work for you or your group.
- If you’re visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art during the summer—or whenever the weather is nice—don’t forget to check out the gardens located on the east side of the building. This green space, which often is filled with sculpture and other works of art, is a pleasant spot to chat with friends, have a quick snack, or just catch one’s breath after a long day of sightseeing.