It is with a heavy heart that we at the MCA share the news of Lewis Manilow’s passing. As one of the most formative influences on this institution, he will be missed. (Dec 12, 2017)
In 1967, a young Lew Manilow was invited by MCA founding Board Chair Joseph Shapiro to join the board as a founding trustee. At the time, Lew was just 40 years old and the youngest serving trustee. He would remain ardently involved throughout his life with the MCA’s core programs. One of the most memorable early examples of his full-on commitment was his support of the iconic wrapping of our first building by Christo; Lew watched over this exhibition, staying on-site to ensure it was not shut down by the fire department!
Following a remarkable tenure as Board President from 1976 to 1981, which included securing much-needed space for our permanent collection and shows devoted to Chicago art, Lew played a fundamental role in the expansion of the MCA to its current location and gleefully supported exhibitions and acquisitions. Lew was also instrumental in promoting the then-radical idea of having a theater with year-round original programming in a museum. With his support, the MCA created the dynamic MCA Stage season that today’s audiences enjoy.
Lew affectionately called the MCA “avant-garde in the best possible sense,” and as a member of the Collection Committee and in partnership with his fantastic wife Susan, he brought iconic works into the collection by artists such as William Kentridge, Shirin Neshat, Kara Walker, and H. C. Westermann, and expanded the holdings of Chicago artists like Jeanne Dunning, Leon Golub, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, and Kerry James Marshall. Just walk through any of today’s 50th anniversary collection exhibitions and you will see many magnificent works of art gifted by Lew and Susan. Their collecting was truly legendary and established Chicago as a central player in the international art world.
In 1996, Lew gave the gift of a named curatorship, the Manilow Senior Curator, presently held by Omar Kholeif, whose work continues to honor Lew’s legacy of pushing the boundaries and relevance of contemporary art. In 2010, Lew was honored with an appointment as MCA Life Trustee. The shape of this institution and the wealth of gifts we share with the city of Chicago would be far lesser without Lew’s unflinching, brilliant, and impassioned advocacy and dedication.
Lew’s dedication to arts and culture extended far beyond the MCA, and in honor of his invaluable contributions to the advancement of the arts, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000.