It's summer now (officially), which means it's warm, and I want to get outside.
But parks, while great, don't give me the cultural experience I'm seeking. (In fact, they usually give me grass stains.)
Determined to find something free and social, I trekked last Tuesday over to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. I first went to the MCA the night its current location opened in 1996 for magical a 24-hour event, and I've been back several times since, mostly for the museum's First Fridays. Until last week, though, I never knew that the museum also enjoyed a little midweek after-hours fun.
MCA's jazzy Tuesdays on the Terrace coincide with Target Free Tuesdays (yes, the MCA apparently likes alliteration), which means no admission all day. Tuesdays on the Terrace happen each Tuesday through September 25 from 5:30-8 p.m. Free music? Free admission? Free art? I was in.
Here's the deal: The entire museum opens to the public free of charge, musicians hold court on the back terrace happens and folks hang out all over the sculpture garden lawn in back. Visitors can dine alfresco on $11 mini burgers and Asian spaghetti with meatballs at Puck's, located adjacent to the performers. Music-fans, take note and make a reservation. Pre-boxed sandwiches and salads are also available at an express counter.
Outside the Fred Anderson Trio jammed, strummed and made more than one guy in the audience nod his head. Seats, however, were hard to find, and when listening to music, in heels no less, I'm not inclined to stand. By the time I arrived, less than an hour into the event, the free seats on the terrace in front of the band were occupied, and the lower section of the terrace, while near the bar, offered nothing but tall chair-less tables.
My friend and I leaned on the countertop, drinking an $8 watery vodka lemonade and $7 small cup of white wine while waiting 20 minutes in a long line to get to the terrace's edge. But overpriced drinks aside, the real problem lies in the music, which is great but inaudible. Go to the lawn area and you won't hear a peep. Go to the deck, still not so loud. Go stand by the band, great! But you need to get there early to get that close, or huddle behind the seated people, obstructing foot traffic on the terrace.
After a bit of listening, my friend and I decided to explore the museum. I excitedly showed him all the great exhibits I remembered, but somehow, I felt like my memories surpassed the reality. We couldn't find anything I'd seen on my last visit (a trip I admittedly took two years prior); the main floor was closed off for construction. My friend felt there wasn't a lot to the museum. I swear there is, but we couldn't find it.
What was there was good, such as Lorna Simpson's 1994 exhibit, "Wigs," reflecting on social preconceptions of race and gender. The two video installations we saw, one featuring water footage with a haunting cover of "Wicked Game," were mesmerizing (much more so than the couple making out in front of us—seriously, it's a museum, not a Ho Jo).
But, despite being free, I left wondering what to take away from the MCA Tuesday experience. I appreciate jazz, but only when I can hear it. We had heard you could rent blankets, but we didn't see any, which meant that when it got colder, we left.
As a bar alternative, the MCA on Tuesday isn't a bad place to stop by after work for some music and outdoor time. But as an artsy night out? Get there early, get a seat for the music and come back when there's a bigger art experience because I know this museum has really great stuff…somewhere.
Want to know more? Check out the website for details.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you know of the mythic happy hour that she missed, do clue her in