This month the MCA Chicago unveiled an ambitious, $16 million architectural campaign designed by husband-and-wife team Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, of Los Angeles-based architecture firm, Johnston MarkLee. If those names sound familiar, it’s because they are also the artistic directors of the second Chicago Architecture Biennial. They have created three new public spaces across the ground, second and third floor connected by a central staircase. Given that the museum is known for its blockbuster temporary exhibitions and not its permanent collection, this seems to be an attempt, and a successful one at that, to encourage visitors to linger. In a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times, Johnston and Lee called newness “a disease” and encouraged architects and artists to maintain a strong respect for, and gain inspiration from, history. Their appreciation comes through in this project, which does not disregard the original Josef Paul Kleihues design, but rather uses the structure as an enhancement and guiding force.
The piece de resistance of this impressive addition is Marisol, the restaurant on the ground floor. By opening Marisol, the MCA joins institutions such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Jewish Museum by investing in restaurants that not only provide excellent food but also complement the mission of the museum. In his first ever restaurant commission, Young British Artist and Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili creates a subtle, seamless and utterly delightful immersive installation, entitled “ The Sorceress Mirror.” This mural in the central part of the restaurant is a soft illustrative work in harmony with the structure. In a side room, visitors can see the Ofili fans have come to know and love. Slightly muted but contrasting colors reimagine a mythical scene with two figures riding a beast over a sorceress’ cave.
As for the food and drink, the menu does not disappoint. Head Chef Jason Hammel, also of Lula Cafe in Logan Square, created the type of menu visitors have come to expect from him: highly seasonal, local and carefully crafted. Consistently delicious, Hammel’s menu is the perfect way to end a trip to the MCA. Currently there is only dinner at Marisol, but lunch and counter service are in the works. Current menus, restaurant hours, and more info can be found on the Marisol website.