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“don’t be afraid” Billboard by Jim Hodges Stretches more than 70 Feet on Façade of Hirshhorn

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

As part of the Hirshhorn’s ongoing “Directions” series, a monumental billboard by New York-based artist Jim Hodges (American, b. Spokane, Wash., 1957) will be installed on the museum’s façade from mid August through the spring of 2006. The work will become a part of the Hirshhorn’s collection as a gift from the artist. To create the piece, Hodges invited international delegates to the United Nations to translate in their own language and handwriting the phrase “don’t be afraid.” The artist then reproduced and combined the many versions into a large-scale, commercially printed billboard, which can be re-sized and re-printed to fit multiple venues. The billboard has been presented in five cities: Worcester, Mass; London; Miami; Chicago; and Santiago de Compostela, Spain. 

The sixth installment of this billboard will stretch more than 70 feet wide by 25 feet high on the façade of the Hirshhorn’s main entrance on Independence Avenue.

The phrase “don’t be afraid” has been a personal mantra for the artist since 2000, when he incorporated it into a small, three-dimensional drawing. What was once a reminder to have courage when making his own work then appeared in the more public format as a bumper sticker that Hodges produced in conjunction with the catalogue accompanying the 2004 Whitney Biennial. Its present incarnation, described by the artist as a “global chorus,” expresses the reassuring message in response to an unspecified distress, allowing viewers to develop interpretations of its meaning that might range from the personal to political.

In a recent statement the artist reflects, “My hope is that the work functions to bestow a sense of peace, freedom from fear or to inspire courage. It is not intended to speak only to current issues of security but to reach out to all of us who fear for whatever reason. The many voices, speaking in so many languages can hopefully instill a sense of compassion and support.”

Given Washington’s role in international affairs, the placement of “don’t be afraid” at the Hirshhorn reflects and connects to the diversity of people living in the city and throughout the world.

Hodges received a bachelor’s degree from Fort Wright College, in Spokane, Wash. in 1980 and a master’s degree from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1986. He has had numerous solo museum projects including those at the Miami Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and an exhibition that traveled to several U.S. venues between 2003 and 2005. He has participated regularly in group exhibitions around the world including the 1995 Venice Biennale and the 1996 São Paulo Bienal. Hodges’s work also is included in the Hirshhorn’s “Visual Music” exhibition, on view through Sept. 11.

The artist will speak about his work and installation at the Hirshhorn at “Meet the Artist: Jim Hodges” on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Ring Auditorium. The talk is free, open to the pubic and tickets are not required.

The Hirshhorn’s “Directions” series has brought the work of leading and emerging international artists to Washington, D.C. since 1987. “Directions-Jim Hodges” is made possible by Ray Graham III, Trellis Fund, Glenn Fuhrman, and Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, with additional support from an anonymous donor and friends. Hodges Contemplation Space is courtesy of Apartment Zero.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the nation’s museum of modern and contemporary art, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and serves an estimated 700,000 visitors annually. The museum’s collection encompasses some 11,500 paintings, sculptures, mixed media installations and works on paper. The Hirshhorn maintains active exhibition and educational programs, examining and informing the public about the art of our time. The museum, open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., is located at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W. Admission is free. Visit www.hirshhorn.si.edu for more information.

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