Enticing – And Appetizing – Changes Come to the MCA


If turning 50 means you're showing your age, then 50 sure looks good if you're the Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Three quarters of the way through its 50th year in 2017, the MCA just unveiled the new building redesign by architects Johnston Marklee as well as opening of the highly anticipated restaurant Marisol, featuring the first US restaurant commission by British artist Chris Ofili.

Below are details from the museum's press release: 

"Today Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, officially opened the dynamic new building redesign by Los Angeles-based architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee. Grynsztejn says, "Johnston Marklee understands the strength of our Josef Paul Kleihues-designed building, and they carry a deep respect of history throughout their architectural practice. Their legacy of stellar work-increasingly referenced as a leader in the field-resonates strongly with our interest in making thoughtful interventions to our building, including a new restaurant called Marisol. With this redesign, our distinctive space becomes even more welcoming and flexible for our audiences."

Johnston Marklee (JML) redesigned select public spaces of the museum to create three major new offerings: Marisol, the ground-floor destination restaurant with an immersive art environment by international artist Chris Ofili; a social engagement space called the Commons on the second floor with an installaion by Pedro y Juana; and a new third floor with classrooms and a flexible meeting space that puts learning at the very center of the museum. These new public spaces are connected by a dramatic new staircase that honors the MCA's original iconic staircase, and an elegant new vaulted ceiling that recalls the barrel vaults in the fourth-floor galleries. JML's design of these welcoming and vibrant new spaces reflects the changing needs of a 21st-century contemporary art museum while maintaining the integrity of the Josef Paul Kleihues-designed building opened in 1996. This major $16-million renovation converts 12,000 square feet of interior space and coincides with the MCA's 50th anniversary."

Also today, Grynsztejn revealed Turner Prize-winning British artist Chris Ofili's first restaurant commission in the United States. For this commission, Ofili designed an immersive art environment for the MCA's new restaurant Marisol with a site-specific art mural as the centerpiece, carried through to every surface of the restaurant -- from line drawings on the walls and etchings on the glass, to all of the colors, fabrics, and textures in the restaurant. Grynsztejn says, "This is not simply putting work from the collection on our walls. This is a full-scale, all-in, immersive art environment that surrounds you when you enter into the restaurant, for which Chris Ofili has decided on every surface."

The mural, called The Sorceress' Mirror is exemplary of Ofili's incorporation of the imagined and the real in his paintings, and his unifying of these into a singular, vibrant, and sensuous visual narrative. Inspired by the vaulted ceiling designed by Johnston Marklee for the restaurant, Ofili has leaping figures arcing across the night sky, with two figures riding a beast in flight as it leaps over a red cave and into the stars. Beneath them, the sorceress in her cave seems to emerge from the water as she hunches over her mirror, observing the figures and canopy above. The sorceress's cave re-imagines the landscape of Trinidad, where the artist lives and works. Ofili drew from trips he made to Paria Bay on the north of the island, where a rock at the edge of the shore has been carved by the sea to create a natural arch through which the water flows. The transition of the sky from saturated black pigment to lighter washes punctuated by colorful glittering stars refers to the sense of an instant captured on the threshold between night and day. 

Marisol features local chef Jason Hammel at the helm and re-imagines the relationship between food, art, and design in an immersive art environment created by Ofili.

Chef Hammel's menu is inspired by the muse of the new MCA restaurant, spirited French/Venezuelan artist Marisol -- a star of the New York art scene in the 1960s with her friend Andy Warhol, whose artwork, Six Women (1968), became the first work in the MCA's collection of contemporary art.

Built upon a twenty-year relationship with Midwestern farmers, chef Hammel's menu incorporates vibrant vegetables and handmade pastas, alongside meticulously sourced meat and seafood. Hammel has created a playfully designed menu that varies with the seasons, filled with imaginative, thoughtful, and contemporary flavors inspired by the artistic surroundings that fuel the mind, body, and soul. The menus reflect not only the seasonal availability of local ingredients, but the creative open environment of the restaurant and the museum. Further, a new area called the Street with the space's counter service offers coffee, pastries, and inventive small-bites welcoming both passers-by as well as destination travelers.

The dinner menu showcases imaginative dishes including the Marisol Salad (apple, dill, macadamia nut, pecorino, Marisol's natural food salad dressing), Crispy Eggplant (roasted grapes, pistou, sweet and sour pork) and Steamed Swordfish (cauliflower, cherry tomato, uni hollandaise).     
Lunch offerings include lighter plates of vegetables and sandwiches, full-bodied entrees, and signature sweets. Standouts on the lunch menu include the Marisol Sandwich (grilled skirt steak, spring onion jam, runny farm egg, avocado), French Omelet (cured salmon and crème fraiche, sourdough toast) and Fried Trout Sandwich (cherry tomatoes, bacon, bibb lettuce, gribiche). 

The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami's show at the MCA, closes on September 24. A new show featuring work by Michael Rakowitz opens on September 16. Stop by the museum to see both shows as well as to experience the new restaurant for yourself. 

More info on the MCA is here

To read about more Chicago restaurants with an artistic environment, click here.


Top photo: Kendall McCaugherty, © Hall+Merrick