A Visit to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography

Last year while visiting downtown Chicago, I stumbled upon the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP). Located at Columbia College Chicago, on Michigan Avenue across from Grant Park, MoCP was something that I didn’t have time to visit at the time.  This past month I was finally able to stop in (the fact that MoCP was about halfway on the walk from my hotel to the museums and that it was about 15F was just coincidence).

Even though the holidays signaled the end of the Reversed Images: Representations of Shanghai and Its Contemporary Material Culture exhibit, I was able to catch it.  A very interest collection of photography, some video, and strange sculptures (which were never really explained considering this is a photography museum). All on the theme of the changing Shanghai.

Most interesting was Isidro Blasco’s mixed media display which consisted of an overlapping set of images that were re-assembled in 3D on a wooden frame rather than digitally combined into a larger 2D image.  Most compelling was Zhou Xiaohu Temporary Sculpture which was a digitally created image of modern day Shanghai in the background with the old historic 2-3 story buildings of the demolished Shanghai in the foreground; at first glance one wouldn’t think it was digitally created if it wasn’t pointed out.

Overall MoCP was an interesting find in the heart of Chicago. I was a bit disappointed by the Reversed Images exhibit from the fact that there didn’t seem to be as much quantity of photography as one would expect for a Photography museum and that there seemed to be very little artist participation in the display of their work.  Most of the sparse signage was obviously written by the curators of the museum where it would have been more educationally, especially considering the cross-cultural nature of the exhibit, to have heard about the work in the artists own voice.

Another large disappoint I personally felt with MoCP was the lack of engagement from the staff.  There was a person (student perhaps) that was on duty near the front door who didn’t even greet us as we walked in.  An after that I never saw another person from the museum the entire time. While warm temperatures of the space was a welcome refuge from the winter winds on Michigan Avenue, the cold reception for visitors was a bit off-putting.

And, as far as I could tell, the entire museum space was being used for the exhibit.  If there was any permanent collection at the museum, I couldn’t see where it was.   (That being said, visitors need to make sure they keep climbing the stairs upward, the museum has three levels and the third level was almost missed as it appeared to be more of a staff access area than museum display space.

While these were just my wind chill induced first impressions, I do recommend visiting the museum if you are in the downtown Chicago area.  While I will be the first to admit that I don’t always get some contemporary photography, there is always value in expanding your photographic vision.

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