Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden

The Hirshhorn Museum, located at the corner of Independence Avenue and Seventh Street on the National Mall, opened in 1974 with a collection of over 11,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art. The history of the Museum is a long and fascinating one that began with Joseph Hirshhorn, an immigrant to America, a self-made millionaire, and avid art collector. A showing of Hirshhorn’s sculpture collection in New York City prompted the 1966 Act of Congress establishing the Museum in DC. Construction was primarily federally funded, along with a $1 million donation by Hirshhorn. Official groundbreaking took place in 1969, and through gifts and other acquisitions, the Museum collections continued to grow and attract thousands of visitors each year. In the early 2000’s, the traveling exhibition of Dali’s Optical Illusions drew in a record-breaking attendance of over 4,500 a day.

The pink granite building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft, is an unusual example of modern architecture that closely resembles the Guggenheim in New York City. It stands out in sharp contrast to the cluster of the more conservative historical buildings nearby. This hollow cylindrical structure sits on four 14’ massive blocks, towers 82’ in the air, and covers an area 231’ in diameter. Outside the curving walls of the Museum are four acres of landscaped grounds, with a 115’ interior courtyard and a 60’ fountain. The 1.3-acre garden of sculpture features the contemporary designs of artists such as Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Auguste Rodin.

There are approximately 200,000 square feet of exhibition space within and outside the Museum and three floors of galleries. The third floor of the Museum features Calder’s wire mobiles and abstracts, the post-war expressionism of Willem de Koonig, and Edward Hopper’s paintings of empty streets and dimly lit buildings. A unique exhibit by Nam June Paik is a 7’ x 12’ wall of 70 video monitors, forming a flashing display of the American flag. A large part of the second floor gallery will feature Wolfgang Tillman’s first-ever solo collection in the U.S., which will be on display from May to August of 2007. The exhibit will consist of over 300 photographs and installations capturing people in their most casual, candid camera moments in random display. Special exhibition tours at 1 and 3 p.m.

The first floor houses gallery space, video screenings, and Meet the Artist talks and discussions held in the 274-seat Ring auditorium. The Museum is featuring noted artist John Baldessari’s first conceptual installation, Ways of Seeing. This exhibit invites artists and filmmakers to explore the 12,000 works of art on display and develop their own ideas and perspectives for ongoing presentations. Baldessari has taken paintings by Milton Avery, Philip Guston, and Thomas Eakins, as well as sculpture by Emily Kaufman, from the Museum collections for this project. Short videos and films, presented in rotating exhibitions, run continuously in the Black Box Theater. Visitors can view Takeshi Murata’s digital animation and sound track of Untitled (Pink Dot) and the powerful works of Magnus Wallin who depicts his dreams and nightmares in Exercise Parade 2001 and Anatomic Flop, 2003, strange, animated films of mythical creatures floating around somewhere in space..

The lobby of the Hirshhorn Museum is a study in light and texture, an environment created by accomplished interior artists Virgil Marti and Pae White. Couches sculpted in foam are draped in wool newspaper print tapestries, while curtains hang from plastic bones across windows taped in an intricate cocoon pattern. The entire space has been transformed into a combination of nature and the outdoors with the ultra-modern materials of design such as aluminum and macramé.

The Sculpture Garden and Plaza are as much an attraction as the Museum itself. There are open areas in the Plaza beneath the building where large sculptures are displayed, and smaller ones are placed in corners between the four piers. In the recessed garden and courtyard areas, one can find sculpture such as the Last Conversation Piece by Juan Munoz. These five large, round bronze figures seem to interact and tell a story that is left open for the viewers’ interpretation. Barbara Hepworth’s abstract in bronze, Figure for Landscape, is designed with a hollow interior that brings in the beauty of the outdoors as a part of the sculpture’s open design. Concerts and workshops are often held in the Plaza, while aspiring artists gather here when the weather is favorable where they gain inspiration from the garden and the sculpture. One of the highlights in the Sculpture Garden is a Wish Tree, a white Japanese dogwood tree given to the Museum by Yoko Ono at the annual Cherry Blossom Festival this year. The tree is a permanent installation and visitors are invited to pin a wish on the tree, which will be included in Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower at Reykjavik, Iceland.

Ongoing activities at the Museum include gallery talks by curators and special guests, workshops, and hands-on art projects for teachers, students, and families. Special 5-week intensive art labs for teens and storytelling hours for preschoolers are designed to encourage an appreciation for modern art and sculpture. Programs are free, but
registration is required.

Hours: Museum, open daily (except Christmas Day), 10:00 a.m. — 5:30 p.m., Plaza, 7:30 a.m. — 5: 30 p.m., Sculpture Garden, 7:30 a.m. — dusk.
Admission: Free — donations welcome.
Daily tours: 10:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m., school groups. Exhibitions & collections, 1:00 p.m. — 3:00 p.m. Ph: 202-633-3382 for info.
Dining: Outdoor café — open late spring and summer — as weather permits. Museum store on premises.

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