Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Washington, D.C., United States
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. is one of the most renowned museums of modern and contemporary art in the United States.
The museum takes its name from financer and art collector Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899-1981), whose collection comprised sculptures and paintings by many of the most important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Hirshhorn, who once was an unwealthy Latvian immigrant to the USA, bequeathed a substantial part of his collection to the Smithsonian to express gratitude to his adoptive country.
The museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is housed since 1974 in an imposing building opening onto the National Mall.
Designed by Gordon Bunhaft of the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the building of the Hirshhorn Museum is a 4-story cylindrical construction a large part of which is raised fourteen feet above the ground on massive concrete columns, thus leaving the ground floor almost free – a scheme which Bunhaft possibly borrowed from Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation -, a fifth story – containing exhibition spaces, offices, and storage areas – is buried underground. A circular courtyard and a fountain are located in the middle of the concrete drum, thus giving the building a donut-like form; consequently, all the above-ground galleries are curved. The museum exterior is entirely clad with a precast concrete aggregate of pink granite from North Carolina.
The circular courtyard of the museum. Photo Kyle.tucker95 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Apart from a large horizontal opening on the third floor, the external side of the museum is almost windowless since most windows open onto the internal courtyard only; this unusual solution was probably devised by Bunhaft to emphasize the massiveness and geometric precision of the construction. Together with 197.000 square feet of exhibition space, the museum accommodates a 247-seat auditorium, storage for the art collection, offices, workshops, and various visitor facilities.
Overall, the Hirshhorn Museum is widely regarded as one of the most interesting examples of Brutalist architecture in the United States and possibly the most important one in Washington DC.
The panoramic window on the third floor of the museum. Photo Angela n. (CC BY 2.0).
Hirshhorn Museum, architect Gordon Bunshaft, plans, and sections. Images courtesy of Smithsonian Institution / National Capital Planning Commission.
The 12,000-piece permanent collection of the museum includes works by Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Max Ernst, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Jacques Lipchitz, Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Lucio Fontana, Alberto Giacometti, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Francis Bacon, and Jeff Koons, among many others.
For the last decades, the collection has been especially focused on contemporary art after World War Two.
Pieces from the collection are usually displayed on a rotating basis in special exhibitions.
As anticipated, the Hirshhorn also includes a remarkable sculpture garden.
Located opposite the museum across Jefferson Drive, the 1.3-acre garden contains artworks by some of the most prominent American and European sculptors surrounded by lawns and flowering trees; the garden is one of the most popular cultural attractions in Washington DC.
The program of events of the Hirshhorn features temporary exhibitions, artist interviews and talks, learning activities, creative workshops, and special events.
The building of the museum also contains a specialized library and a gift shop.
The sculpture “Untitled (Big Man)” by Ron Mueck, 2000, part of the Hirshhorn Museum’s permanent collection. Photo Angela n.(CC BY 2.0).
A view of the interactive exhibition Pulse (2018) by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Photo Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0).
The site-specific installation “Directions” by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto, 2002. Photo Anokarina (CC BY-SA 2.0).
The sculpture garden of the Hirshhorn Museum with the bronze sculpture “Monument to Balzac” by Auguste Rodin, 1892-1897. Photo by Vincent.
Cover image: the north facade of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. Photo Jpellgen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
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