Every modern metropolis worth its salt has a palace for contemporary art. Chicago is a city that is very in touch with its artsy side. But while many flock to the Art Institute, or to the more popular museums in museum campus further south, the Museum of Contemporary Art, or MCA, is an oasis tucked right off the chaos of Michigan Ave, built on land that was originally the site of the Illinois National Guard Armory and is now surrounded by Northwestern’s Chicago campus. Since it was established in the 60s, the MCA has evolved from a small scrappy art hall to a cultural institution in its own right, a common stop for any contemporary art exhibition touring the country.
The MCA is the perfect casual afternoon museum. One that you can go to on a whim. One that is big and spacious enough to explore for a couple hours, but small enough to feel accessible. The ground level is home to the restaurant, Marisol, the theater and the MCA store. The main entrance to the museum is on the second floor, up the grand stairs that lead up from the street level. The galleries span the second, third and fourth floor, with the top floor typically reserved for special exhibitions. Behind the museum (from the second floor) is a terrace and sculpture garden that look over a park and Lake Michigan beyond.
Overall, the museum is humble and community driven, hosting many events that cater to the Chicago community. With a regularly refreshed permanent collection on display and consistently programmed exhibitions (like this Virgil Abloh one from 2019), it’s a museum worth many revisits.
Go here for: traveling exhibitions in a less chaotic way (compared to seeing the very same exhibitions in LA or NYC)
Don’t miss: the casual daytime cafe and evening restaurant/bar Marisol downstairs; and their two story book and gift shop
Amount of time to spend: about 1-2 hours is perfect, it’s not a super big museum, but depending on how busy the rotating exhibitions are, it’s nice to give a little extra time
When to come: weekdays are great because it’s very peaceful, summers are also great for the exhibitions
Getting here: it’s probably easiest to take one of the many buses that run up and down Michigan Ave, but the closest CTA station is Chicago (red), about an 8 minute walk
Other things to note: