MCA Chicago Celebrates 50th Anniversary with Three-Part Exhibition


Madeleine Grynsztejn remarks. Photo by Braxton Black for Jeremy Lawson Photography.

Last week, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago celebrated its 50th anniversary, and made quite a spectacle of the milestone. The day began with a few words from MCA Director Madeleine Grynsztejn on the museum steps, with the likes of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and MCA board members looking on. Visitors could amuse themselves with special performances, food options and interactive activities. In a much quieter celebration, MCA curators Omar Kholeif, Naomi Beckwith and José Esparza Chong Cuy organized a three-part exhibition under the umbrella title We are Here.

The exhibition was really an excuse to bring out the museum’s permanent collection. The first of the three-part exhibition, I Am You, opened over the summer on the first floor of the museum. The exhibition focused on works of a personal nature, relying heavily on portraiture: blue-chip artists such as Francis Bacon and Olafur Eliasson were represented. This was by far the most concise and understandable of the three chapters. This month, the two final parts of the exhibition, You Are Here and We are Everywhere opened on the museum’s expansive fourth floor. You Are Here explores the role of the viewer in works of contemporary art, paying particular attention to works of the 1960s when this role began to shift. The final installment, We Are Everywhere, explored work inspired by pop culture: think Andy Warhol and Takashi Murakami. Within these grand themes, works were organized more or less chronologically.

MCA Chicago 50th Anniversary
Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait, 1949. © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved/DACS, London/ARS, New York 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

The pleasure of this exhibition was not the curatorial themes, but rather the beautifully mismatched and eclectic permanent collection, which is rarely front and center. In fact, the curatorial initiatives, while admirable, were too broad and vague to follow. Don’t all works of art grapple with questions of viewership, the personal life of the artist and the popular culture in which they were created? In addition, these themes did not feel like a natural development based on the museum’s collecting patterns, but rather a forced committee meeting. To be fair, how does a museum display over 2,500 works of art in a special exhibition? Chronologically with no overarching theme? By medium? There’s no real solution.

The exhibitions will be on view through April 1, 2018. The museum is located at 220 E. Chicago Ave. The suggested admissions fee is $15 for adults, $8 for students and free for members and children 18 and under. For more information visit 

Related posts: See our earlier reviews of the MCA anniversary exhibitions here and here

Arielle Ismail
Arielle Ismail
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