The new Chicago MCA.
Photo Steve Hall.
of the MCA.
as a Fountain, 1966-67
Untitled #137, 1984,
The Wonders of Nature
de la Nature), 1953.
Memorial to the
Idea of Man If
He Was An Idea, 1958.
Birth of a Star, 1995
From "Second Sight"
From "Second Sight"
From "In The Presence
by Victor M. Cassidy
With the opening of the new Museum of
Contemporary Art and an imaginative series
of events at the galleries, the action in
Chicago has been nonstop all summer.
Early in July, after ten years of planning,
fundraising and construction, the Chicago
Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) opened the
first structure made specifically for its
use since the museum was founded in 1967.
The $46-million facility and sculpture
garden is set between two parks, with North
Michigan Avenue and the Water Tower to the
west and Lake Michigan to the east. Berlin
architect Josef Paul Kleihues (who was
selected from over 200 other architects),
has produced an impressive structure with a
chaste interior that does not fight the
SEVEN TIMES AS BIG
With almost seven times the square footage
of the museum's previous facility, the new
MCA provides space for simultaneous
installation of the permanent collection
and temporary exhibitions. The building
also shelters a museum store; a restaurant
and special events area; and an education
center comprising studio-classrooms, a
performance/symposium space, a library, and
a 300-seat auditorium. The restaurant
overlooks the terraced sculpture garden.
Only 45,000 sq. ft.--substantially less
than one-third of the 151,000 sq. ft. MCA--
are allocated to the exhibition of art. The
permanent collection gets 16,000 sq. ft.
and temporary exhibition galleries total
15,000 sq. ft. Project, drawing, and video
galleries occupy 14,000 sq. ft. The
sculpture garden fills 34,000 sq. ft., but
that is outdoors--not an inviting place to
look at art during Chicago's harsh winter.
The remaining space is staff offices, which
fill most of two floors; the non-art
facilities; and colossal lobbies and
As long as art's not the main thing on your
mind, the new MCA is a fun place to visit.
Its facade is all squares and rectangles
with great big windows and lots of cast
aluminum panels. To enter, you climb a
sweeping staircase that's intended to evoke
the propyleia of the Acropolis. At the top
is the immense second-floor lobby and
windows that let you see all the way to
The wonderfully airy interior features a
skylit four-story atrium and barrel-vaulted
skylights on the top floor. The prettiest
room is the Lake Gallery with Calder
sculptures everywhere and a view of the
TWO INAUGURAL SHOWS
To inaugurate its new space, the MCA has
organized two major exhibitions. "In the
Shadow of Storms: Art of the Postwar Era
from the MCA Collection"--110 Minimal,
Conceptual, Surrealist and other works--
occupies the permanent collection
galleries. Lucinda Barnes, the MCA's
curator of collections, is responsible for
Barnes would have done better to install a
broad selection from the MCA's permanent
collection without forcing a theme upon it.
She shows too many predictable Minimal and
Conceptual works (e.g., Sol LeWitt, Jenny
Holzer, Dan Flavin), some good Surrealist
pieces and a miscellany of works by Hans
Hofmann, Ed Paschke and others that look
like they were hauled out of the basement
to fill up the space.
Barnes gives us four (!) pieces by Jeff
Koons, whose one-liners look more vapid and
contrived each time we see them. She shows
mediocre work by first-rate artists like
Martin Puryear. Puryear lived almost 15
years in Chicago--couldn't the MCA get
something better from him? "In the Shadow
of Storms" is an appalling show.
The temporary exhibition, called
"Negotiating Rapture: The Power of Art to
Transform Lives," is said to explore "the
ways in which certain artists have
attempted to work past the limits of their
human condition, toward an experience akin
to religious ecstasy." Organized by Richard
Francis, the MCA's chief curator, it
contains work by Francis Bacon, Joseph
Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Agnes Martin, Barnett
Newman and others; several religious
objects; and some Old Master paintings and
"Negotiating Rapture" doesn't make much
more sense as a themed show than "In the
Shadow of Storms," but at least there's
much first-rate work here--the Agnes Martin
especially--so we have that consolation.
The temporary galleries are hard to find as
they are situated unobtrusively between the
second-floor entrance lobby and the
ART MARRIES VODKA
How do art dealers spend the summer?
Straightening up the back room? Watching
paint dry? Waiting for better times? Not in
Chicago! During July and August, Absolut
Vodka and more than 20 member galleries of
the Chicago Art Dealers Association (CADA)
teamed up to sponsor Absolut Vision
Chicago, a series of six gallery nights and
lectures featuring art from Europe, Latin
America, Japan and the US. The promotion
was advertised nationally and locally. The
dealers issued a four-color catalogue.
Roberta Lieberman, director of the
Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, proposed the
promotion to Absolut Vodka, which has a
long history of support for the visual
arts. Absolut is known for its commitment
to well-known artists, but it also supports
many at mid-career.
Frank Paluch, CADA President and Director
of Perimeter Gallery, explained that
Absolut provided "the bulk of the money
plus in-kind services" for Absolut Vision
Chicago. Dealers contributed a sum in cash
and gave the use of their spaces. Said
Paluch: "There was a huge crowd on Opening
Night (July 11)! Every dealer got several
flavors of Absolut Vodka to serve and
Absolut shot glasses to give away. There
were smaller crowds at the lectures. Each
was accompanied by a reception and Absolut
According to Paluch, Absolut Vision Chicago
gave the dealers national exposure. "We
wanted everyone to know that Chicago's art
world is vital and exciting in the
summertime," he said. "We got lots of
traffic and calls from all over. I won't
claim this increased sales, but we're still
very pleased. As for next year, it's too
soon to say."
New to the River North gallery district is
the Aldo Castillo Gallery (233 West Huron
Street), specializing in Latin American
art. Castillo, an artist who was born in
Nicaragua, fled civil war there and
received political asylum in the US. In
1993, he opened a gallery on Chicago's
Lincoln Avenue. The move to River North
gives him a better space and more traffic,
he stated. According to Castillo his
mission is to "promote, educate, and create
awareness of the significant cultural
contributions of artists from around the
world focusing on Latin America." Among the
artists he represents are Wifredo Lam
(Cuba), David Alfaro Siqueiros (Mexico) and
Luis Gonzales Palma (Guatemala).
WHEN AARON MET HARRY
Two of Chicago's small museums begin the
season with major exhibitions. "When Aaron
Met Harry: Chicago Photography 1946-1971"
opened on Sept. 7 at the Museum of
Contemporary Photography and continues
until Nov. 2. "When Aaron Met Harry"
comprises photographs by artists working in
Chicago between the years 1946--when Harry
Callahan arrived--and 1971--when Aaron
Siskind departed. According to the museum,
Callahan and Siskind, through their
photographic practice and their teaching at
the Institute of Design (ID) of the
Illinois Institute of Technology, "produced
generations of photographers whose work is
distinguished by a visual sophistication
and complexity that reflect a concern for
composition, form and the use of the frame
to transform subject matter into
expression." The exhibition includes
photograms and abstractions by Laszlo
Moholy-Nagy, who established the New
Bauhaus (ancestor of the ID) in Chicago in
1937; Callahan, Siskind, Walker Evans,
Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Barbara
Crane, Ray K. Metzker and many others.
"Second Sight: Printmaking in Chicago,
1935-1996" will open on Sept. 27 at the
Mary and Leigh Block Gallery of
Northwestern University and run until Dec.
8. Curated by James Yood, an art critic who
teaches at Northwestern, the show consists
of more than 150 prints executed by more
than 80 artists over a 60-year period.
Together these works exemplify Chicago
printmaking activity starting from Hull
House during the Depression and continuing
through the Graphic Studio, the New
Bauhaus, Landfall Press and the School of
the Art Institute of Chicago. Artists with
work in the show include Gertrude
Abercrombie, Ivan Albright, Richard Hunt,
Christina Ramberg and Karl Wirsum.
THE PRESENCE OF TOUCH
Eight European and Canadian artists who
address the notion of touch in site-
specific sculptural, video, and sound
installations are showing their work in
Chicago as part of "The Presence of Touch,"
an exhibition and lecture series at the
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
beginning Sept. 11 and continuing through
Nov. 1. Organized by Joan Livingstone and
Anne Wilson of the school's department of
fiber, the series explores the impact of
both hand and electronic technologies in
relation to touch and textiles. The artists
are Ingrid Bachmann, Steven Schofield and
Barbara Layne (Montreal); David Rokeby
(Toronto); Anne Ferrer (Paris); Erwin Wurm
(Vienna); and Paul Sermon and Regina Frank
Victor Cassidy is an art journalist based