A Visit to the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Chicago

I went to a real museum this weekend in person! It felt so surreal that I kept thinking “I’m in a museum” every few minutes. That probably sounds silly, but after a year of missing museums (and the unique quietness and inspiration they deliver), it felt so special to slowly wander through the galleries of the MCA Chicago.

Museums are actually the perfect place to practice social distancing. Even pre-pandemic, works of art typically have plenty of breathing room between them; many museums have ample space for moseying from exhibit to exhibit or observing art from different perspectives. MCA is spread out over 4 floors and has implemented a thoughtful reservation system, social distancing, helpful floor directions, and mandatory masks.

A photo from the first floor of MCA Chicago

One of the largest exhibits features the work of Christina Quarles, an American artist based in LA. Her vivid, abstract paintings explore complex themes such as identity, intimacy, and grief. The artist’s unique perspective was apparent and her use of color was inspiring. I also really enjoyed a wall covered in her line drawings, like In My Love below:

Christina Quarles' In My Love, 2019

One of her pieces, Beautiful Mourning, in particular really resonated with me. Grieving is so complicated and personal, but what’s universal is that life goes on around you. After my mom’s father passed away, she was driving home from the hospital and saw a group of people laughing, which she found so offensive; she remembers thinking, “Don’t they know my father died?” I recalled that story immediately when I saw Beautiful Mourning with its bright, traditionally-happy colors juxtaposed against such a visceral portrayal of grief.

Christina Quarles' artwork titled Beautiful Mourning
Image credit: The New Yorker
A description of Christina Quarles' Beautiful Mourning at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

The other large exhibition on the second floor features the work of Carolina Caycedo, a Colombian artist based in LA. Desde el fondo del río, or From the Bottom of the River, includes multimedia projects, net sculptures, drawings, and photography that investigate the environmental and social impact that dams, mining, and similar infrastructure projects, have on rural communities.

Carolina Caycedo's exhibition, Desde el fondo del río, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago
Image credit: MCA Chicago

I found her work to be extremely relevant and moving, conveying a sense of urgency around protecting these natural resources and communities. Several works were produced on a very large scale, which added to their impact in my opinion. One example is My Feminine Lineage of Environmental Struggle, which includes portraits of one hundred female activists that spanned an entire wall. Here’s a small section of the 9″x12″ drawing:

A portion of My Feminine Lineage of Environmental Struggle by Carolina Caycedo

I think museums are at their best when the exhibitions are thought-provoking and inspiring, so MCA definitely falls into this category. There were several smaller galleries and The Long Dream on the fourth floor that I’m looking forward to exploring, so I’m sure I’ll be back sooner rather than later.

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