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Take a Local Turn at Museum of Contemporary Photography

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There are a whole lot of things we love about the Loop: the wide, murky expanses of the river coiling past Merch Mart, the duality of the corncob towers stretching towards the sky, the warped silver of the Bean. However, there's no disputing downtown's crowning glory is the buffet offering of museums of all shapes and sizes. We realize that we don't have that prestigious (read: pretentious) title of "Museum Mile", but personally we think that the depth, breadth, and lack of crowds (usually) at the Art Institute more than make up for that.

To our point: we've come to sing the praises of one museum that's less prolific than the others: the Museum of Contemporary Photography. It would be going too far to call the MOCP the indie darling of the Loop, because the museum was founded in 1984 and is an arm of Columbia College from whence it receives funding. It also has an 11,000-piece collection with ambition to expand. Its quaint 6,500 square feet of gallery space means a very small percentage of the collection is on display at any given time. Even thought it's part of the museum's plan to add a front door (right now the only entrance is through Columbia College) we sort of like the secret door, under the radar, need to know vibe that MOCP gives off.

We dropped by MOCP last week on an inordinately rainy afternoon to see "Spectator Sports", a multimedia and photography exhibit that focused on the relationship between athletes and their spectators. The idea completely enthralled us — after all, who hasn't occasionally been captivated by the near superhuman skill, grace, and power of an athlete at the top of their game. Sure you remember instances when your eyes were glued to the screen at that pivotal 10 seconds, the final goal, that game changing 3-pointer. The exhibit featured work from artists Roderick Buchanan, Ewan Gibbs, Michelle Grabner, Julie Henry, Brett Kashmere, Vesna Pavlovi?, Paul Pfeiffer, Susken Rosenthal, Katja Stuke, and Charlie White. Stuke's enormous portraits of young female Olympic gymnasts poised for their routines really struck a chord, as did an otherworldly depiction of 2006 Fifa World Cup games through geometrically rendered ball movements done by Rosenthal.

The MOCP, on top of giving us a place to see the work of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange on any given afternoon, also provides a cultural intersection between up and coming photography stars and homespun Midwestern artists. It is the largest photography museum in the Midwest and home to the Midwest Photographers Project.

We like a museum that simultaneously promotes fresh new talent and reps its locals with verve. Extra points to MOCP for advancing connection between Columbia College and the Loop. A majority of interns are Columbia students and the museum is free. If that's not ars gratia artis we don't know what is. Since it looks like it's going to rain forever, we can't think of a better place to soak up a bit of culture on the weekend.
·Museum of Contemporary Photography [Official]

—Arabella Watters