Museum of Contemporary Art

Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world.

Located just steps from Michigan Avenue, it celebrates art from the 1940s through present day. It’s also the site of several events and performances throughout the year.

The museum was first established in 1967 a few blocks south of its current location. Originally conceived as a counterpart to the Art Institute of Chicago, it featured temporary exhibitions. In the mid-1970s the MCA began acquiring objects for a permanent collection and soon expanded into adjacent buildings, and in 1977 a three-story townhouse was purchased to increase the available space even more.

Related: Things to do in Chicago

The collections kept growing, and in 1996 the museum moved into its newly constructed home at 220 East Chicago. This 220,000 square foot building features three stories for the display of art, as well as a performance space and an on-site restaurant.

The Museum of Contemporary Art has amassed a collection of over 2,500 objects, as well as more than 3,000 artists’ books. The objects represent surrealism, minimalism, conceptual photography, postmodernism, and pop art. Some of the more famous artists in the collection include Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, and Alexander Calder.

The MCA began with temporary exhibitions and it has continued to bring in new exhibitions frequently. Frida Kahlo’s first U.S. exhibition was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1978. Other prominent artists featured in solo exhibitions have included Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, and Robert Mapplethorpe. The works of Koons returned in 2008 to celebrate the museum’s 40th anniversary.

There are always multiple exhibitions running simultaneously. One of the exhibitions is devoted to Chicago artists. Called Chicago Works, it features the work of a local artist for three months. The displays are not limited to the interior of the museum.  “Plaza Project” brings the art outside in an effort to participate in the community surrounding the museum.

In addition to art that is displayed, there is also art that is performed. The MCA Stage showcases dance, music, film, and multimedia performances. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, a nationally renowned dance company, performs on the stage. Another popular program is the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which features percussive music and dance.

One of the museum’s most popular events is First Fridays. On the first Friday of every month the museum is open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for an evening of socializing. Guests at this 21+ event can browse the collections while enjoying complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar.

Tuesdays are also popular at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Admission is free for Illinois residents, and during the summer there is a farmers market on the grounds in the morning and free jazz in the evenings.

Find more free things to do in Chicago

The Museum of Contemporary Art is easily accessible via public transportation, with a red line stop just a few blocks away and several bus lines running up and down Michigan Avenue. While there is plentiful parking in the area, since it’s the Magnificent Mile it can be quite expensive. You can find discounted parking with Spothero:

The Museum of Contemporary Art is more than just a museum. It is a part of the community and the city that surrounds it, making it a frequent destination for locals and a must-stop spot for tourists.