The MuseumIn 1938, the Congress of the United States legislated a new gallery within the Smithsonian Institution intended to encourage interest in contemporary art. Almost 30 years later, in 1966, philanthropist Joseph H Hirshhorn (1899-1981), a Latvian-born immigrant who came to America at age six, donated his entire art collection to the United States, a gift that made it possible to fulfill the Congressional mandate for a contemporary art museum. Funds for a building to house the collection were appropriated by Congress in 1969 (Mr. Hirshhorn contributed an additional one million dollars), and the new museum opened in October 1974, with a collection of 4,000 paintings and drawings and 2,000 pieces of sculpture.
While the nucleus of the collection remains Joseph Hirshhorns original gift, it has been greatly enriched by Mr. Hirshhorn's bequest of the art he had collected since 1966. Other benafactors - collectors and artists among them - have given works to the museum; and purchases made from funds provided by Congress, the Smithsonian's Board of Regents, and private donors have helped broaden the scope of the collection.
Its Architecture"If it were not controversial in almost every way it would hardly qualify as a place to house contemporary art. For it must somehow be symbolic of the material it is designed to encase." - S. Dillon Ripley, former Secratary of the Smithsonian Institution, at the opening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1974.
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was designed by Gordon Bunshaft, then chief designer for the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. The building, a circular reinforced concrete structure 231 feet in diameter, sits on four massive piers, 14 feet above the ground, to open up a plaza area for the display of sculpture. Over 75 pieces of sculpture are exhibited there and in the adjacent Sculpture Garden, which offers an intimate outdoor gallery experience.
Inside the museum, the permanent collection is displayed on the second and third floors. Sculpture is exhibited in the inner galleries, which have floor-to-ceiling windows; paintings and drawings are installed in the outer galleries. The lower level, used mostly for special exhibitions, also houses a 280 seat auditorium. Administrative offices and the library are on the fourth floor.
SculptureThe Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden houses one of the world's major collections of modern sculpture. Honoré Daumier's satiric legislator, Henri Matisse's sequential heads and backs. Auguste Rodin's powerful figures, Alexander Calder's playful mobiles and stabiles, and Joseph Cornell's evocative boxes are only a few of the works in a collection that also encompasses examples by Siah Armajani, Jean Arp, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Anthony Caro, Edgar Degas, Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and David Smith, as well as the largest public collection of sculpture by Henry Moore in the United States. On the plaza and in the Sculpture Garden can be seen monumental works by these and other sculptuors, including Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, Barbara Hepworth, Claes Oldenburg, George Rickey, and Kenneth Snelson.
PaintingsWith its focus on painting in the United States from the pioneering work of the great artist and teacher Thomas Eakins to the innovative productions of contemporary artists, the collection provides and opportunity to study various trends and developments in American art. The museum has extensive collections of work by such well-known and influential artists as Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, George Luks, Kenneth Noland, Larry Rivers, and others.
Appropriate for a museum whose collections have come primarily from an immigrant to this country, there is an unusually large representation of works by immigrant artists, who have so greatly enriched the American art of this century. Among them are Josef Albers, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Hans Hofmann, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Max Weber. Complementing the representation of American art is work by a variety of modern European and Latin American masters, including Francis Bacon, Balthus, Fernando Botero, George Grosz, Anselm Kiefer, René Magritte, Matta, Joan Mir´o, and Joaquín Torres-García.
Other HoldingsThe variety and scope of the collection is reflected in the diversity of its 2,500 works on paper, which are divided among drawings, prints, watercolors, and gouaches dating from the late 19th century to the present day and concentrating on European and American Artists.
Oscar Bluemner, Willem de Kooning, Thomas Eakins, Louis Eilshemius, Philip Evergood, and Raphael Soyer are examples of the many artists who are represented by works in several media. The museum also holds a significant group of drawing by 20th-century sculptors, among them, Alexander Calder, Gaston Lachaise, Giacomo Manzù, Marino Marini, Elie Nadelman, and George Segal. Some of there were done as preliminary studies for three-dimensional works in the collection. Sculptor Henry Moore is yet another example of an individual artist whose large number of sculptures is complemented by a sizable group of works on paper.
Exhibitions and PublicationsSince only a portion of the museum's permanent collection can be on view at any one time, the galleries are changed frequently. Special exhibitions - of both works lent by the public and private collections - are organized by the museum staff and documented by catalogs intended to serve the general public and scholars alike. Thomas Eakins, Louis Eilshemius, Arshile Gorky, Joan Miró, Larry Rivers, David Smith, and Raphael Soyer are several of the may artists whose works have been exhibited with accompanying catalogs. Other projects explore the newest trends in contemporary art. Touring exhibitions and loans to other museums also forma an increasingly active part of the program.
ToursAll tours are free and begin at the information desk on the plaza level. Museum docents give general tours of the museum Mondays through Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., 12 noon, and 1:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Group tours for students, kindergarten and up, are available by appointment. Tours of special exhibitions are offered by members of the museums staff; days and times are available at the information desk. Tours on any subject appropriate to the museum's collections or exhibitions may be arranged through the education department. Call 202.357.3235.
AccessibilitySculpture tours for the blind and visually imparied and sign-language tours are available by appointment. Call 202.357.3235.
Wheelchairs are available in the checkroom, lower level, or visitor may bring their own wheelchairs into the museum through the emergency doors to the main lobby. The staff elevator may be used for wheelchairs. Ramps permit access to the Sculpture Garden.
Both the Orientation Gallery and the Marion and Gustave Ring Auditorium are equipped with audio loops.
OutreachThe Education Department offers in-classrom presentations for students 4th grade and up and for senior citizen and other groups within an 11-mile radius of the museum. "Light and Shadow," which introduces 4th and 5th graders to the use of these elements in art, and "What is Modern Art?," which acquaints the 5th and 6th graders with the principles of 2th-century painting and sculpture, are examples of outreach programs offered. Teacher workshops for in-service credit can be arranged. Call 202.357.3235.
General information 202.357.2700, 202.357.1729 (TDD)
Press Office 202.357.1618
Museum Shop 202.357.1429
Other Departments 202.357.1300
Dial-a-Museum (recording of Smithsonian special events) 202.357.2020
Highlights: Large sculptures by Rodin, Moore, Matisse, Smith and Cragg, in plaza and garden; paintings, in the galleries, by Hopper, de Kooning, Dubuffet, Stella, Kiefer and Murray.