Over the past nine months, we've sat down with some of the MCA's key players to uncover the secret scandals and untold stories from the museum’s 50-year history. We’re highlighting some of the juiciest tales on MCA DNA. Today we shine our spotlight on the MCA Store, which has been a part of the museum since almost the beginning.
Started by Helyn Holland (m. Goldenberg; now the president of the Arts Club of Chicago) and Rhona Hoffman (now a highly influential Chicago gallerist), the MCA Store began as a special project of the Women's Board. As Goldenberg recalls: "The [store's] purpose was also to be another place where visitors could stop and talk about the exhibitions, and many did. They'd say: 'I love the show,' or 'I don't understand that show,' or even 'I don't ever want to understand that show.'" The MCA Store became a success in a very short span of time; in its first four and a half months, it had a gross profit of $9,000. Even after 50 years, some things never change. As evidenced by the lines waiting for Murakami merch and the ever-changing supply of one-of-a-kind art objects, it continues to be a success and a unique source for innovative and creative items.
[The Board of Trustees'] confidence in the Women's Board was such that they insisted [on] a cabinet on wheels . . . which could open like a safe and get bigger so that when—not if—but when we failed, it could be moved into the closet nearby and stored. Nonetheless, Helyn [Goldenberg] and I decided we would do this, we would start this store.
[The museum] needed a lot of money . . . and because we had all these really bright, creative ladies, we did a few things. We started a store. And because nobody—including the director—wanted to give up the space, again, being very creative, the women had a box. . . . You could open it up, and all the store things were inside. And you could move it around. And it fit in . . . a closet upstairs. . . . And so, at night, when other people were there, we could just roll it away. And the store was, from the beginning, really good because a couple of the girls were very creative in purchasing. So we have been known for years as one of the best stores in town.
We actually started selling things that no other museum was selling at the time. We sold American Indian jewelry. We had American Indian traders. We sold artists’ jewelry. We sold Lichtenstein plates. It was marvelous. It is wonderful to see today that our store, now, is one of the best stores in the country. It started out that way, and it’s still that way.