|Location||Washington, D.C., on the National Mall|
|Visitors||1.1 million (2017)|
|Public transit access||at L'Enfant Plaza|
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is an art museum beside the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., the United States. The museum was initially endowed during the 1960s with the permanent art collection of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. It was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft and is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It was conceived as the United States' museum of contemporary and modern art and currently focuses its collection-building and exhibition-planning mainly on the post-World War II period, with particular emphasis on art made during the last 50 years.
The Hirshhorn is sited halfway between the Washington Monument and the US Capitol, anchoring the southernmost end of the so-called L'Enfant axis (perpendicular to the Mall's green carpet). The National Archives/National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden across the Mall, and the National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian American Art building several blocks to the north, also mark this pivotal axis, a key element of both the 1791 city plan by Pierre L'Enfant and the 1901 MacMillan Plan.
The building itself is an attraction, an open cylinder elevated on four massive "legs," with a large fountain occupying the central courtyard. Before architect Gordon Bunshaft designed the building, the Smithsonian staff reportedly told him that, if it did not provide a striking contrast to everything else in the city, then it would be unfit for housing a modern art collection.
In the late 1930s, the United States Congress mandated an art museum for the National Mall. At the time, the only venue for visual art was the National Gallery of Art, which focuses on Dutch, French, and Italian art. During the 1940s World War II shifted the project into the background.
Meanwhile, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, now in his forties and enjoying great success from uranium-mining investments, began creating his collection from classic French Impressionism to works by living artists, American modernism of the early 20th century, and sculpture. Then, in 1955, Hirshhorn sold his uranium interests for more than $50-million. He expanded his collection to warehouses, an apartment in New York City, and an estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, with extensive area for sculpture.
A 1962 sculpture show at New York's Guggenheim Museum awakened an international art community to the breadth of Hirshhorn's holdings. Word of his collection of modern and contemporary paintings also circulated, and institutions in Italy, Israel, Canada, California, and New York City vied for the collection. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley successfully campaigned for a new museum on the National Mall.
In 1966, an Act of Congress established the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Most of the funding was federal, but Hirshhorn later contributed $1-million toward construction. Joseph and his fourth wife, Olga Zatorsky Hirshhorn, visited the White House. The groundbreaking was in 1969 and Abram Lerner was named the founding Director. He oversaw research, conservation, and installation of more than 6,000 items brought from the Hirshhorns' Connecticut estate and other properties to Washington, DC.
Joseph Hirshhorn spoke at the inauguration (1974), saying:
It is an honor to have given my art collection to the people of the United States as a small repayment for what this nation has done for me and others like me who arrived here as immigrants. What I accomplished in the United States I could not have accomplished anywhere else in the world.
One million visitors saw the 850-work inaugural show in the first six months.
In 1984, James T. Demetrion, fourteen-year director of the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa, succeeded Abram Lerner as the Hirshhorn's director. Art collector and retail store founder Sydney Lewis of Richmond, Virginia, succeeded Senator Daniel P. Moynihan as board chairman. Mr. Demetrion held the post for more than 17 years.
Ned Rifkin became director in February 2002, returning to the Hirshhorn after directorship positions at the Menil Collection in Texas and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Rifkin was previously chief curator of the Hirshhorn from 1986 until 1991. In October 2003, Rifkin was named Under Secretary for Art of the Smithsonian.
In 2005, Olga Viso was named director of the Hirshhorn. Viso joined the curatorial department of the Hirshhorn in 1995 as assistant curator, was named associate curator in 1998, and served as curator of contemporary art from 2000 to 2003. In October 2003, Viso was named deputy director of the Hirshhorn, a post she held until her 2005 promotion to director. After two years, Ms. Viso accepted the position of Director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, departing in December 2007.
Chief Curator and Deputy Director Kerry Brougher served as Acting Director for more than a year until an international search led to the hiring of Richard Koshalek, who was named the fifth director of the Hirshhorn in February, 2009.
Richard Koshalek (born 1942) was president of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., from 1999 until January 2009. Before that, he served as director of The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years. At both institutions, he was noted for his commitment to new artistic initiatives, including commissioned works, scholarly exhibitions and publications and the building of new facilities that garnered architectural acclaim. He worked with architect Frank Gehry on the design and construction of MOCA's Geffen Contemporary (1983), a renovated warehouse popularly known as the Temporary Contemporary. He also worked with the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki on the museum's permanent home in Los Angeles (1986). Koshalek resigned in 2013 after the Bloomberg Bubble controversy (see below).
On June 5, 2014, Hirshhorn trustees announced that they had hired Melissa Chiu, director of Asia Society Museum in New York City, to be the Hirshhorn's new director. Chiu, who was born in Darwin, Australia, is a scholar of contemporary Chinese art. Chiu oversaw the Hirshhorn's 40th anniversary celebration in the fall of 2014. Chiu began her tenure at the Hirshhorn in September 2014.
Notable artists in the collection include: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, John Chamberlain, Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning, Milton Avery, Ellsworth Kelly, Louise Nevelson, Arshile Gorky, Edward Hopper, Larry Rivers, and Raphael Soyer among others. Outside the museum is a sculpture garden, featuring works by artists including Auguste Rodin, David Smith, Alexander Calder, Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy, Jeff Koons, and others.
In 2019, Barbara and Aaron Levine donated their entire Marcel Duchamp collection, one of the largest in the world, to the museum. The exhibit "Marcel Duchamp: The Barbara and Aaron Levine Collection" runs from November 9, 2019 to October 12, 2020.
The Burghers of Calais (closeup)
In 2009, then Director Richard Koshalek announced that an inflatable structure would be erected over the Hirshhorn's central plaza to create a new public space. The Seasonal Inflatable Structure, to be called the "Bloomberg Bubble," was due to be erected in 2013 and would be inflated annually for one two-month period. It was supposed to create a 14,000-square-foot space for performance and lectures. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the proposal won a progressive architecture award from Architect magazine.
Hirshhorn officials began reconsidering the Bubble in 2013. Construction cost estimates for the structure more than tripled to $15.5 million from $5 million, and no major gifts for the project were received between 2010 and May 2013. A Hirshhorn study also concluded that the cost of programming (such as symposia and special events) using the Bubble were likely to run a $2.8 million annual deficit. The Hirshhorn's board of directors evenly split on a vote to proceed with the project in May 2013. In the wake of the vote, seen as a referendum on his leadership, museum director Richard Koshalek announced he would resign by the end of 2013. Constance Caplan, chair of the museum's board of trustees, resigned on July 8, 2013. She cited what the Washington Post characterized as "a board, a museum and the larger Smithsonian Institution at a crossroads, roiled by a lack of transparency, trust, vision and good faith". Four of the board's 15 members resigned between June 2012 and April 2013, and three more (including Caplan) in May, June and July 2013.
The museum was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990) and provides 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2) of exhibition space inside and nearly four acres outside in its two-level Sculpture Garden and plaza. The New York Times described it as: "a fortress of a building that works as a museum." An original plan with a reflecting pool across the Mall was approved in July 1967. When excavation started, a controversy arose, resulting in a revised design, with a smaller footprint, which was approved on July 1, 1971.
In 2013, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden drew around 645,000 visitors. It has a budget of $8 million, which does not include the $10 to $12 million in operational support supplied by the Smithsonian Institution.