While most people believe the Art Institute of Chicago is the city''s best art museum, some feel the MCA is a more cutting-edge establishment with a certain urban-slanted attitude that may be just right for Chicago. Designed by the German architect Josef Paul Kleihues, it opened on June 21, 1996, as a replacement for the much-smaller MCA on East Ontario Street. Because of its birth date (which is shared by the author), it holds an annual "Summer Solstice" event with all-night entertainment and festivities that include music, performances, and food.
The MCA''s permanent collection includes works by Alexander Calder, Sol LeWit, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and Ed Paschke. While the permanent collection is interesting, it pales when compared to that of New York''s MOMA. I personally enjoy the temporary exhibits more, as there is always something fresh and unique on display. You can see architectural exhibits, full-scale sculptures and exhibition spaces, and video arts. Perhaps the display of emerging art trends is the whole point of a contemporary art museum.
Kleihues'' design is very dry and minimalist, which allows the art to sing. A high staircase fronts the main west facade, and in the evening the voids of the glass windows create an interesting contrast with the dark frame of the building. The skylit main atrium is four stories high and is a good orientation place. The most interesting element is the grand interior staircase that wraps around a almond-shaped space above a fish pool. If you do not want to climb the considerable main stairs, you can also enter via the ground floor entry, where you can run into the auditorium, classrooms, and lavatories.
Puck''s at the MCA is the name-brand cafe with pleasant views of the lake and sculpture garden when the weather permits al fresco dining. The MCA Store occupies two levels and has some interesting books and artistic collectibles for purchase. The MCA hosts "First Fridays", when the museum is open late the first Friday of every month. For a nightclub-like entry fee, you can get snacks from Puck''s, experience a guest band or performer, and see lots of artsy wannabees. Oh, and you can enjoy the latest art exhibit too.
The MCA is closed on Mondays but is free and open until 8pm on Tuesdays. As an added plus, the coat check is free (it is one dollar at the Art Institute). It has a prime location just a block east of the revered Water Tower landmark.