The MCA recently scored a major art coup by booking the David Bowie exhibition (Sept 2014–Jan 2015). It’s the only museum in America to land the exhibit, which sold out handily when it was in London, and that speaks well to the art muscle of Chicago’s contemporary museum—one of the nation’s largest of its genre. Despite that ranking, MCA is a spot that’s actually quite easy to breeze through, with three floors of exhibition space dedicated to sculpture, video, painting, and film created since 1945. Although the museum holds a permanent collection of more than 2,500 objects, it frequently rotates them, showcasing a small percentage at a time, while also bringing in traveling exhibits and, bonus, showcasing Chicago artists. If you’re not a huge fan of modern art, I highly recommend taking a podcast audio tour for a primer on the latest works, or join in one of the free tours (Tues at 1, 2, and 6pm; Wed–Fri at 1pm; Sat–Sun at noon, 1, 2, and 3pm), which take less than 45 minutes. The tours are quite helpful to those of us, including myself, who leave some art museums feeling like the only kid in the room who didn’t get the joke.
The MCA is also home to a 300-seat theater, and is a great spot to take in performances and art house films. Puck’s at the MCA is a far better than average museum restaurant, and it looks over a lovely sculpture garden. The museum springs to life the first Friday of every month, when music fills the halls and patrons sip cocktails while perusing the latest art. Allow 1 to 2 hours.