Championing the provocative side of contemporary art and culture
Located one block east of the historic Water Tower, the MCA champions the provocative side of contemporary art and culture. Our innovative exhibitions, performances, and programs will inspire you.
Founded in 1967 as a Kunsthalle, or noncollecting art gallery, the MCA is now one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to art since 1945. Since our inception, it has been our mission to exhibit new and experimental work artists in all media, paired with ambitious education programs. In 1974, the MCA expanded our mission to include collecting and preserving contemporary art for future generations with the inauguration of a permanent collection that has grown to include more than 2,000 works. After 29 years in a storefront on Ontario Street, the museum moved to our current location in 1996, giving our collection, exhibitions, and programming room to evolve to meet the needs of 21st-century art and audiences.
Since the MCA opened its doors in 1967, in a small building at 237 East Ontario Street (the former Playboy headquarters), we have featured the work of emerging artists, many of whom would go on to influential careers. Under the direction of curator and art historian Jan van der Marck, the founders and staff sought to nurture experimentation and “collaboration among practitioners of today’s many-faceted art expressions” and to amplify the innovative exhibitions with “lectures, symposia, roundtable discussions, films and musical performances.” From day one (literally) we took an interdisciplinary approach, featuring composer John Cage and Fluxus artists Alison Knowles and Dick Higgins asking, “What Did You Bring?” in the first of many Happenings and avant-garde performances that the museum would present. Dan Flavin’s neon tubes lit up the museum’s original gallery in his first solo show.
As we became more established, programs also brought a social awareness and engagement to the breadth of experimental activities. The museum’s curators organized Violence! In Recent American Art (1968), which addressed the violence and cultural tumult of the moment. We also partnered with the Conservative Vice Lords, Inc. on Art and Soul, a pilot program to establish a neighborhood art center with an art studio, library, and classes in Lawndale on Chicago’s West Side. In 1969, we became the first building wrapped by Christo in the United States. That same year, we also organized the influential Art by Telephone, for which our staff executed art works onsite following the instructions phoned in by artists like John Baldessari, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, and Robert Smithson.
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