The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
As I approach the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago I am struck my its austerity, a huge, grey monument in the northern part of downtown. Despite this, it’s also currently covered in a large octopus decal promoting an about to open Takashi Murakami show. The austerity of the outside however doesn’t prepare you for the sheer amount of activity that is going on inside. The MCA is undergoing some huge changes at the moment, a large part of which is under the auspices of the very excellent Susan Chun, Chief Content Officer who meets me in the foyer for a look around a chat. I’m always slightly confused by the titles given to many of the people I meet in the USA as Susan’s remit stretches far beyond content. Several exhibitions are being installed at the moment which Susan knows intimately as she tells me of the ins and outs of their installation. Susan is a brilliantly enthusiastic person and she takes me to several unexpected levels of the building for a look around after pushing multiple buttons in the elevator due to her distracted enthusiasm.
On the top floor is a Riot Grrrls show, not actually about the 90s feminist grunge movement its name would suggest but of ten pioneering contemporary female artists whose work has pushed the envelope and has influenced a new generation of artists. There’s something in the energy and hubris of these works though that does evoke the aesthetic of the exhibition’s namesake.
The Murakami exhibition is also being installed up here on the top floor and we stoop down to see one of the most challenging works to install – a huge papier mâché, unwieldy stalactite that has been roughly covered with aerosols graffiti by the artist up until the proviso day. It is this manic energy that seems to purvey the entire building and Susan herself.
Looking up the fairly spectacular stairwell.
She takes me down into the bowels of the building to meet the digital team who by the look of the amount of work visualised on every spare space of wall in the office are very busy people indeed. Addressing what they have identified as a major problem in many punters not actually having any idea what the building they work in is, they are prototyping a huge neon-looking LED sign to adorn the front of the building. They have paper prototypes up on the wall and a 1:1 functioning section of the display they proudly cart around the building. This is all part of a fairly significant upgrade that is happening to the building including a whole new entry foyer and restaurant called Marisol (after the Warhol protege Marisol Escobar who sadly died in 2016) headed up by rockstar Chicago chef Jason Hammel. It’s totally cool to see Susan’s team of people working on all of this stuff together at the same time from interior deign of the front desk, to the LED signage down to the way the menus will be printed and how it will all work online. Susan tells me how proud she is of the team and how unusual it is to be able to achieve all of this in house for what would otherwise require an external studio to do.
The new foyer (under construction).
The team is also currently engaged in a project called Coyote which has the ambitious plan on creating quite lengthy alt text for every image that the museum has. This will finally create an accessible experience for vision impaired visitors to the website but is also data that could manifest in countless other forms.
After spending a couple of hours at the gallery we all head back to Susan’s apartment, right on Lake Michigan in a huge apartment complex that was pointed out to me on the previous day’s architectural tour. Apparently the City had instigated a law that meant no buildings could be erected on land east of Lake Shore drive, reserving the land for citizens. The developers of this building however identified the fact that it was reclaimed land fill, not land on its own – a sneaky legal Do-si-do which allowed this spectacular building to happen. The loophole apparently was closed immediately after its construction. Up in Susan’s apartment with incredible views of the city and the lake she does a speech which everyone settles down listen to in which she thanks three of us present for visiting form overseas. The sincerity with which this whole ritual occurs is not something that happens back home and that everyone takes seriously but with a lot of joy. More speeches back in Australia I say. Cheers!
Admission: Suggested admission – $12.
Digital engagement: Hands down the most clever, unusual and easy to use website I’ve experienced. Exhibitions speak for themselves and need little else.