The author Lea Rose Allbaugh passing by the illuminated neon sign at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago)

MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago) Guide for 2023

I’m a Chicago local here to introduce you to MCA, also known as the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. 

In my opinion, MCA is one of the best museums in Chicago. In this article, I’ll cover MCA history, exhibits, and key information, like ticket costs and where to find parking. I also share tips for visiting, along with nearby attractions you won’t want to miss. 

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About MCA Chicago

View from above of the iconic ellipsoid stairwell in MCA
MCA’s iconic ellipsoid stairwell

MCA Chicago is one of the largest contemporary art museums in the world. Since its doors opened in the fall of 1967, this museum has exhibited new and experimental work that spans art forms. From audio and video to visual art, photography, sculpture, and more, MCA focuses on work created by living artists and artists of recent decades. 

This quote from the MCA founders sums up the purpose of the museum best:

“A museum of contemporary art is different from the general art museum where the values of the past are enshrined. Instead, it is a place where new ideas are shown and tested.”

MCA is the place to go to experience artwork that is not only eye-catching and interesting but thought-provoking, too. If you’re at all interested in contemporary art, MCA is a must-visit. And with ever-changing exhibits and rotation of its permanent collection, there’s always something new to see. 

Located in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, MCA is adjacent to the Magnificent Mile and just north of the Loop. The Chicago Water Tower, 875 North Michigan Ave (formerly the John Hancock Center), and other Chicago landmarks are within walking distance. 

The Collection

The installation part of artist Nick Cave’s Forothermore exhibit
An amazing installation part of artist Nick Cave’s Forothermore exhibit

When you visit MCA, don’t expect one kind of collection. Instead, expect the unexpected!

The works on display typically come from three different sources: work from the permanent collection, loaned work, and work by artists in residence. The permanent collection is made up of over 2,500 pieces, and other works are ever-changing. 

This combination of constantly rotating pieces is what makes MCA such a standout museum, and one of the best things to do in Chicago. Exhibits may display the work of one artist or a combination of carefully curated work that spans styles and eras. 

MCA does have a common thread, though. All artwork explores cultural, social, and historical themes of our time. There’s also a focus on minimalism, surrealism, conceptual photography, and work by Chicago artists. 

Permanent Collection

The author Lea Rose Allbaugh peeking at the hole of Chainsaw Cut Cowboy Head by Cady Nolan
Me looking out from Chainsaw Cut Cowboy Head by Cady Nolan

As mentioned, the permanent collection has over 2,500 works. They’re never all on display at the same time, but they rotate each year with relevant exhibits. This permanent collection does, however, have works by notable artists. This includes pieces by Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Ansel Adams, Jasper Johns, Kara Walker, Alexander Calder, and others.

The permanent collection features a broad range of art styles from different eras. MCA has works of pop art, surrealism, minimalism, and conceptual art ranging from the 1940s to the 1980s. And from the 1980s, the collection features a lot of postmodernism. The permanent collection also has contemporary works like audio and video, photography, installations, and more. 

Notable Exhibitions

Virgil Abloh exhibit signage outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago
Virgil Abloh exhibit show from 2019 (photo: 4kclips / Shutterstock)

Although MCA puts on a number of exhibitions each year, this is a list of some notable ones throughout the museum’s history. This is by no means a comprehensive list. 

  • 1967 – The first solo museum exhibition of Dan Flavin
  • 1978 – The first solo museum exhibition of Frida Kahlo
  • 1988 – The first solo museum exhibition of Jeff Koons
  • 2006 – Bruce Mau: Massive Change
  • 2014 – David Bowie Is
  • 2017 – Takashi Murakami: The Octopus eats its own leg
  • 2019 – Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech
  • 2020 – Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago 

MCA Stage

A sensual and emotional performance by a dancer
Modern dance performance

In addition to forms of visual art, MCA is also home to a live performance theater. Located within the museum is Edlis Neeson Theater—an intimate performance space for dance, theater, music, and film. 

Artists from Chicago and around the world have performed here. Some notable performers include Mikhail Baryshnikov, Peter Brook, Martha Graham, Phillip Glass, and so many others. Overall, the MCA stage really adds to MCA’s reputation of being an incredible center for interdisciplinary art. 

Gift Shop, Restaurant, & Events

MCA Store

View of the unique merchandise inside the MCA Store
So many amazing and unique gifts here

In my opinion, the MCA Store is one of the best gift shops in Chicago. It’s chocked full of incredibly unique and colorful products that are made and designed by artists in Chicago and around the world. You can tell that each item has been thoughtfully selected, too. Everything falls into MCA’s themes of representation, sustainability, and social consciousness.  

Even if you’re not shopping for anyone or planning on buying anything, it’s still a great store to walk around. It’s located on the right side of the museum’s entrance and has two levels. 

Marisol Restaurant & Bar

View of Marisol Restaurant & Bar from the outside
Outside Marisol

Contemporary work doesn’t end with the museum’s galleries. Marisol Restaurant & Bar is MCA’s modern eatery. It’s located on the left side of the museum’s entrance, just a level below the museum’s main first floor. Led by Chicago chef Jason Hammel, Marisol serves as a cafe and restaurant, complete with a full bar.

Here, you can expect New American fare. The space is also complete with immersive art by artist Chris Ofili. All in all, Marisol is conveniently located to grab a pick-me-up, and also allows guests to sit down and enjoy food and drinks.

📚 Related Reading: 39 Best Restaurants in Chicago


View of the plant booths at the SOAR Farmers Market
SOAR Farmers Market on the front plaza

🖼️ Family Day – A family-focused event that takes place throughout the year. These days provide diverse activities led by artists and performers. It’s suitable for kids of all ages and admission is free. 

🎷 Tuesdays on the Terrace – Also known as “Summer Tuesdays,” this is a jazz event that takes place in the Anne and John Kern Terrace Garden. Admission is free and you can expect to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sounds of lively Chicago jazz. 

🧑🏼‍🌾 SOAR Farmers Market – This farmers market takes place on MCA’s front plaza between the months of June and October. Here, you can shop from vendors with goods ranging from local produce to freshly prepared food. 

🎨 In Progress – This is a year-round public program that takes place on Tuesdays. Here, the public can get a glimpse into the creative process of artists in an open Q&A style discussion about works-in-progress.  

Getting There

View of the peaceful Magnificent Mile in winter
The Magnificent Mile in winter

MCA is located north of Chicago’s downtown loop in the Streeterville neighborhood. It’s sandwiched between the Magnificent Mile (N Michigan Ave) and Lake Michigan. 

You can reach the museum by walking, biking, driving, or taking public transportation. However, the easiest way to reach MCA is via the Magnificent Mile (N Michigan Ave). I recommend walking to the museum from this area. Or, you can easily take one of the many buses that stop along N Michigan Ave. Buses 3, 66, and 157 are just a few options. 

As for other transportation options, you can take the “L” train to MCA by riding the Red Line to the Chicago stop. If you’d like to drive, MCA has a parking garage that’s located adjacent to the museum. Parking rates range from $10-$41. You can have tickets validated inside MCA for a discount. 

Lastly, the best way to reach MCA by bike is to take the Lakefront Trail. Not only is this scenic, and a great way to get around Chicago, but its route will take you only a block or two from the museum. 

Hours, Tickets, & Visiting Details For MCA Chicago

2022’s Forothermore exhibit by Nick Cave in MCA Chicago
From 2022’s Forothermore exhibit by Nick Cave

🎟️ Entrance – $15 for adults, $8 for students, teachers, and seniors, free for MCA members and anyone ages 18 and under

🕛 Hours – 10 am – 9 pm Tuesday, 10 am – 5 pm Wednesday – Sunday, Closed Monday

🖥️ Website – MCA Chicago

📱 Phone – (312) 280-2660

🗺️ Map It – 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

🚗 Parking – MCA’s parking garage is located adjacent to the museum on E Chicago Ave, slightly west of Fairbanks Court. The garage does not have direct museum access. Parking rates can range from $10-$41. 

🖼️ Tours – MCA offers a couple of different tour options for those interested. The first is a private guided tour, and the second is a VIP before/after-hours tour. Both come at an additional cost. 

Tips for Visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Take Your Time

A woman looking at the intricate textile from MCA’s exhibit
Looking at an incredibly intricate textile from MCA’s exhibit Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora

MCA is a good-sized museum, but it’s not as large as the Art Institute of Chicago. It takes about 1-2 hours to see the museum in its entirety, so definitely take your time. Walk through each gallery and make sure not to miss anything!

Read the Artwork Descriptions

Since MCA is a contemporary art museum, some works may not be as obvious as say, a renaissance painting. In order to get the most out of your MCA experience, read the artwork descriptions. This will help you understand the pieces you’re seeing and appreciate exhibits as a whole. 

Don’t Miss the MCA Store

People looking around the MCA Store
MCA Store overview

A trip to MCA just isn’t complete without a visit to the MCA Store. Their gift shop is really wonderful and has so many unique things. There are two levels and you can find everything from accessories to home items and toys. 

Utilize the MCA’s Coat Check

If you visit during the cooler months, feel free to take advantage of the coat check. It’s free and the desk is located right by the entrance. This way, you can wander the museum comfortably.

📚 Related Reading: Best Time to Visit Chicago

What’s Nearby MCA?

Exterior view of the Chicago Water Tower on N Michigan Ave with a clear blue sky in the background
Chicago Water Tower on N Michigan Ave

🛍️ Magnificent Mile – A famed district of downtown Chicago that’s home to big shopping attractions. It’s only a block away from MCA.

🏰 Chicago Water Tower – One of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Learn interesting facts about Chicago at this historic landmark. 

🏙️ 360 Chicago – An observation deck on the 94th floor of 875 North Michigan Ave (formerly the John Hancock Center). Here, you can also take a ride that tilts you 1000 feet over the Magnificent Mile. 

🎡 Navy Pier – A pier full of activities for the whole family. Navy Pier attractions include the Chicago Children’s Museum, a Ferris wheel, and docks for taking lake and river cruises.  

🌊 Lakefront Trail – An 18-mile trail that runs along the city’s lakefront. It’s a great place for running, walking, biking, and enjoying views of Lake Michigan and the city.

🚶 Riverwalk – If you walk from MCA down N Michigan Ave, you’ll pass landmarks like the Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building. The 1.25-mile Riverwalk is just below. This is a great place for sightseeing.

FAQs About MCA Chicago

Is MCA Chicago free?

MCA Chicago is free for members and anyone 18 and under. MCA also has free admission for Illinois residents every Tuesday. For all others, paid ticketed entry applies (with a few exceptions).

Does MCA Chicago have parking?

MCA Chicago has a parking garage that’s located adjacent to the museum. The entrance is on E Chicago Ave. Parking tickets need to be validated at the front desk, box office, or at the coat check in order to receive a discount. 

How long does it take to visit MCA?

It takes 1-2 hours to visit MCA. This amount of time allows you to see everything, including the gift shop. 


That’s a wrap on this MCA Chicago guide! This museum is truly unique and visiting should absolutely be on your Chicago itinerary

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