We Will Have the Title of Great Museum
Excerpts from Allen Turner's stirring speech for the Chicago Avenue building groundbreaking.
It’s a great moment. And we meet today to say goodbye to a proposal, a plan, a design, and to welcome a reality, this new Museum of Contemporary Art, in a glorious building, which embodies the plans, the hopes, and the dreams of so many of us in this room. Twenty-five years ago, a group of Chicagoans met—many of those are here today—and determined that it was important to create a new location, a new venue for contemporary art.
The Art Institute of Chicago—that wonderful model of a museum, one of the great museums of the world—unfortunately did not have enough space to dedicate to the showing of contemporary art, the art of our time. Accordingly, because of the special interest of our founders, this contemporary art museum came into being. Young, exciting, vital, it did what it was supposed to do. It did wonderful things. But all of us know that things do not remain the same. The level of interest in what we do grew dramatically. The level of support increased, and it became apparent that we would have to have a new home in order to fulfill our mission.
We’re changing: from a small museum with a limited but very important following to a new plateau. The new Museum of Contemporary Art will be so different in degree and kind that we are, I should say delightfully, forced to reinvent ourselves. And we will build this institution. The fourth largest contemporary museum in the country. Only [the] Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirshhorn in Washington, and the museum in San Francisco will be larger. We’ll be bigger than the Guggenheim, bigger than the Whitney, bigger than the Walker. We’ll be bigger than the new Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles because this city has a bigger heart and deserves what it’s going to get from us.
And we’ll build it and people will come. They’ll come from the great capital cities of the world. They’ll come from every one of the 50 states in this great country of ours. They’ll come from small cities around the state of Illinois, and they’ll come from neighborhoods, from the suburbs. They’ll come from around us, these high-rise buildings, which just suggest affluence and success.
Inside the Museum of Contemporary Art, we will learn something, something about the human condition, something about love, glory, delight, harmony, joys of parenthood, the pleasures of color, of light, of form. But we'll also learn some other lessons about hate, cruelty, injustice, prejudice, and the difficulty of existing in an unfair world. Sometimes we will like its form. Sometimes, I promise you, we'll be outraged. Turn all of those emotions around. Take them and turn them to understanding. Stop, look, see, consider. You will be introduced to another world and perhaps another part of yourself. And when we are able to do what I’ve just suggested—and I promise you we will—we will have the title of great museum.