Should the MCA Start Collecting?

1960s Board Collection Collectors Controversies

From the beginning, the MCA's founders debated the question of whether the museum should be a kunsthalle—a non-collecting institution—or start a collection.

When the museum was first founded, it was founded as a kunsthalle, and it was a wonderful, successful kunsthalle. So, events came—as happens in the life of institutions and people—and the debate started about, "Should we become a collecting institution?" Well, there was more than one point of view. In fact, there were probably—if there were 40 trustees, there were probably 40 points of view. But the basic debate, I think, really revolved around whether you should remain nimble, and a be a contemporary, contemporary, cutting-edge kunsthalle. Or whether you should grow up, and be a collecting institution also. It was never the idea that we would become a dead institution. So, what was collecting going to do to this institution? Would it make it not as cutting-edge? Would it cause us other problems?

So the debate raged. And it raged amongst a group of interested and interesting people. So, there were many, many points of view. Probably all of them valid, but not all of them possible at the same time. So the conclusion, obviously, was made to become a collecting institution. And some of the reasons, I think, that won the day—I think the biggest reason that won the day was that Chicago is a great collecting city. It's been a great collecting city since the impressionists were bought as avant-garde works of art, now beautifully hanging in the Art Institute. We have always collected contemporary art in this city. So, one of our great collections left the city, and it went to New York. And that, I believe, was an impetus for people to say, "Wait a minute. We want to keep our heritage here. Our collectors are here. They collected here. It should stay here."

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