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Introducing the MCA DNA Research Initiative

by Nolan Jimbo


Archival photo of two people interacting with various sound-making objects, including balloons, a cello, and a record player, while one person holds a telephone receiver to their ear.

Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman performing Mixed Media during the opening of Art By Telephone, MCA Chicago, November 1, 1969. Photo © MCA Chicago.

The MCA DNA Research Initiative is a multi-year curatorial program, supported by the CHANEL Culture Fund, that invites early-career curators and writers to the museum for interdisciplinary research projects related to the institution’s collection. Focused on the intersection of visual art and performance, this initiative surfaces overlooked art historical narratives within the organization’s history while foregrounding the cross-disciplinary ethos that has been integral to the museum since its founding in 1967.

On October 24, 1967, the MCA opened its inaugural exhibition, Pictures to be Read/Poetry to be Seen, which considered the relationship between images, language, and lived experience. The exhibition featured a happening by Allan Kaprow, diagrammatic paintings by Shusaku Arakawa, collages by Ray Johnson, and an eight-foot-tall construction by Alison Knowles, among other works. In 1969, the museum presented the conceptually driven exhibition Art by Telephone, which asked artists to communicate instructions over the telephone to MCA curator David H. Katzive, who then worked with museum staff members to produce the projects. Dedicated to John Cage and Marcel Duchamp, Art by Telephone began with an opening performance by Nam June Paik and Charlotte Mormon, and featured works by 37 artists, including Siah Armajani, Hans Haacke, and Bruce Nauman.

In the decades since, the MCA has continued to connect audiences with experimental and multidisciplinary projects in our theater, galleries, and public spaces. The MCA DNA Research Initiative offers an opportunity to extend this approach towards the study of the museum’s collection, inviting a new generation of curators and writers to trace threads that live within our holdings of approximately 3,300 objects, and to produce essays, videos, and programs related to their research.

The MCA DNA Research Initiative is led by Jamillah James, Manilow Senior Curator, and Nolan Jimbo, Assistant Curator.


The MCA DNA Research Initiative is supported by the Chanel Culture Fund.

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