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The new Chicago MCA. 
Photo Steve Hall. 

Another view 
of the MCA.

Bruce Nauman
as a Fountain, 1966-67
Chicago MCA

Cindy Sherman, 
Untitled #137, 1984, 
Chicago MCA.

Rene Magritte
The Wonders of Nature 
(Les Merveilles 
de la Nature), 1953.
Chicago MCA 

 H.C. Westerman
Memorial to the 
Idea of Man If 
He Was An Idea, 1958.
Chicago MCA 

Mariko Mori
Birth of a Star, 1995
 Chicago MCA

Ed Paschke
Klaus, 1976. 
From "Second Sight"

Jim Nutt
SMack, SMack
From "Second Sight"

Anne Ferrer
Tango (Detail) 
From "In The Presence
Of Touch"

chicago report 

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 



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 

Lake Michigan.

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 



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 

this show.

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 



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).


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.


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 

in Chicago.