Conceived as the nation's museum of modern and contemporary art, the Hirshhorn is home to nearly 12,000 works by masters who include Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Willem de Kooning, as well as contemporary superstars Olafur Eliasson, Damien Hirst and Salvatore Scarpitta. The art is displayed in a circular 1974 poured-concrete building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft, that was dubbed the "Doughnut on the Mall" when it was built. Most of the collection was bequeathed by
the museum's founder, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, a Latvian immigrant who made his fortune in uranium mines.
The internationally renowned sculpture collection has masterpieces by Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi. Outside, sculptures dot a grass-and-granite garden. Among them is a 32-foot-tall yellow cartoon brush-stroke sculpture by pop-art iconographer Roy Lichtenstein that has become a beloved local landmark. Among other works are Jeff Koons's Kiepenkerl and Auguste Rodin's Burghers of Calais.
Inside, the newly renovated third level is the place to see dramatic postwar art from the museum's permanent collection, displayed thematically, with works by artists such as Joseph Cornell, Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, and Sol LeWitt. Be sure to check out Cornell's Untitled (Aviary with Yellow Birds) and Camille Henrot's Grosse Fatigue, which condenses the history of the universe into 13 minutes of video and is based on her time as a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow. Powerful wall drawings by conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner round out the space.
The second level houses exhibits that rotate about three times a year, curated by museum staff and devoted to particular artists or themes. In celebration of the Hirshhorn's 40th anniversary, "Days of Endless Time," an exhibition of moving-image artwork will be on display through February 2015.
The lower level houses thematic installations featuring recent and experimental works from the permanent collection, as well as the Black Box, a space for moving image installations by international artists.
The sculpture garden makes an inspiring spot for a picnic.
Docents lead 45-minute highlights tours every day at 12:30, and again at 3:30 on weekends.
Have a question? Seek out the museum's Interpretive Guides, who wear question-mark badges.
About three times a year the museum hosts Hirshhorn After Hours events: parties that last until midnight and feature performance art, live music, dancing, and gallery talks.
The museum regularly screens premieres of independent, experimental and documentary films.
Nov 22, 2009
This museum is often overlooked by families visiting DC with young children in favor of the "Big Three:" Air & Space, Natural History, and American History, but has enough whimsical art (plus an outdoor sculpture garden for burning off a little museum overload) to amuse the entire family.