Friday, August 1, 2003
40+ Innovative Solo and Group Installations Invite New Perspectives on Modern and Contemporary Art
Over 5,000 Works Added to the Collection since Museum’s Founding
For the first time since it opened in 1974, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is dedicating its entire exhibition space to its collection of modern and contemporary art beginning Aug. 1. This new program, “Gyroscope,” moves beyond the traditional chronological presentations found in most art museums by presenting more than 40 different group and solo installations that invite new perspectives and anticipate questions that often arise while viewing modern and contemporary art. The entire building has become a rotating showcase for the permanent collection, which has grown by more than 5,000 works since the museum opened with the collection that philanthropist Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899-1981) donated to the nation. New installations and artworks will be placed on view throughout the museum through Jan. 4, 2004, and will continue thereafter in selected galleries alongside special loan exhibitions. Reflecting the Hirshhorn’s commitment to innovative museum practices, “Gyroscope” is a program of research and development into new models for presenting the art of our time.
“‘Gyroscope’ tests new ways of featuring art for our audiences through installations that explore how art relates to larger issues, historic events, and other artists and periods,” said Hirshhorn Director Ned Rifkin. “As the nation’s museum of modern and contemporary art, the Hirshhorn serves as a forum for all people—from first-time visitors to seasoned scholars. We have a responsibility to find vital ways to make art engaging and relevant for the millions of Americans and visitors who come to our nation’s capital.”
Like its namesake, the scientific tool that creates a spinning, centrifugal force to aid in navigation, “Gyroscope” presents works of art that help orient and engage audiences. By grouping art of different eras, genres and mediums together, “Gyroscope” encourages viewers to consider artists’ choices—from the materials they use to the themes they explore. The project reveals how an artwork’s meaning expands when presented in different contexts, inviting new perspectives on its relationship to past and current artists, movements and world events.
“The experience of viewing contemporary art—and even modern art—can be inscrutable and intimidating to people,” said Rifkin. “‘Gyroscope’ challenges the notion that there is one method for presenting art. Just as art has evolved dramatically in the last 100 years, so should our approach to showing these important works to the public.”
Reflecting the depth and range of the Hirshhorn’s collection, “Gyroscope” presents a rich mix of approximately 350 works from the late 19th century to the present day by acclaimed masters as well as emerging artists, including Francis Bacon, Alexander Calder, Chan Chao, Willem de Kooning, Alberto Giacometti, William Kentridge, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, Ed Ruscha, Fred Tomaselli, Andy Warhol and Rachel Whiteread. Paintings by less well known artists such as Daniel Vladimir Baranoff-Rossine and Lorser Feitelson, as well as icons such as Franz Kline’s “Delaware Gap” (1958), Fernand Léger’s “Nude on a Red Background (Seated Woman)” (1927) and Frank Stella’s “Arundel Castle” (1959) will be on view. The program will also showcase recent acquisitions and works that have never been on display at the museum, including Joseph Beuys’ “F.I.U. Blackboards” (1977-1979), Ann Hamilton’s “at hand” (2001), Roxy Paine’s “New Fungus Crop” (1999) and Tobias Rehberger’s “Performance (Frame Three)” (1997-1998), among others.
“Gyroscope” has been assembled by a curatorial team headed by Hirshhorn Director of Art and Programs/Chief Curator Kerry Brougher.
Lower Level: Contemporary Painting, Sculpture and Mixed-Media Works
The means artists use to capture the essence of a person—from traditional portraiture, to representations of the human figure, to the spaces we inhabit—are explored in the paintings, sculpture, photography and video-based works of a diverse group of leading international artists in “Gyroscope” on the museum’s lower level.
Nam June Paik’s grid of 70 video monitors, titled “Video Flag” (1985-1996), flashes constantly changing imagery including the faces of several American presidents. Tony Cragg’s “New Figuration” (1985), which uses fragments of brightly colored plastic to suggest the swirling shape of a man, contrasts with the natural flesh tones depicting a nude model in a painting by Lucian Freud, inviting viewers to think about representations of the human form that range from abstract to highly realistic.
Also on view are Australian artist Ron Mueck’s “Untitled (Big Man)” (2000), a sculpture of a seated, hairless man reaching nearly 7 feet; and Swiss artist Beat Streuli’s three-screen video installation “Broadway/Prince Street 01-04” (2001-2002), which offers a compelling portrait of the anonymity and haste of a crowded Manhattan street corner. The human themes of humor, pathos, nostalgia and loss are further explored through works in which the figure is conspicuously absent, such as Colombian artist Doris Salcedo’s “Untitled” (1995), a cement-filled armoire pierced by a bed frame, and Christo’s fabric-shrouded “Green Storefront” (1964), the artist’s re-creation of a New York building from the early 1960s. Works by contemporary artists Robert Gober, Damien Hirst, Bruce Nauman and Franz West will also be on view in this area.
Second Floor: Modern and Contemporary Painting and Sculpture
Galleries on the museum’s second floor invite audiences to consider how artists approach art-making and why artists are inspired to create. The floor includes rooms devoted to single works and others focusing on the dialogue between pieces by two artists. In several thematic installations, works by artists from different decades and artistic movements will be shown together according to commonalities of approach, intent or media—from artists who explore the impact of global crises and historical milestones in their work, to artists whose work emerges from process or performance, to displays about the challenges of conserving modern and contemporary art. Collection highlights by established artists such as Francis Bacon, Dan Flavin, Yves Klein, Joseph Kosuth, Brice Marden, Sigmar Polke, Jackson Pollock and Gerhard Richter, as well as newer works by Janine Antoni, Katharina Fritsch, Roxy Paine and Fred Tomaselli, will be on view on the second floor.
“By presenting art in unconventional combinations, “Gyroscope” seeks to dislodge the notion of art as removed, esoteric objects, and reminds us that art is an integral part of contemporary life,” said Brougher. “The Hirshhorn wants to help audiences relate to the insights artists offer about the complexity and flux of the world around us.”
“Gyroscope” also devotes galleries to single, important works from the collection, including the recent additions of Ann Hamilton’s “at hand” (2001), a contemplative installation in which sheets of white paper drift from the ceiling, accumulating in piles on the floor, and Wolfgang Laib’s “Pollen from Hazelnut” (1998-2000), a fragile, yet vibrant yellow rectangular color field of pollen sifted onto the floor. “Pollen from Hazelnut” is the only work of its kind by this contemporary German artist that is owned by a U.S. museum. An animated film by William Kentridge and a fluorescent light sculpture by Dan Flavin will have galleries to themselves.
Second Floor: Making and Conserving Art Objects
Selected groupings on the second floor will increase visitors’ technical understanding of how artworks are made and how museums care for these works. An installation in the second floor ambulatory explores how bronze sculptures are fabricated, as well as the themes, styles and concerns of sculptors from the late 19th century to the present. Aspects of casting, portraiture and classicism are illustrated through diverse works from the collection, including sculpture by Robert Arneson, Thomas Eakins, Alberto Giacometti and George Segal.
“Gyroscope” will also present artworks and photographic documentation to investigate how museum curators and conservators maintain and protect objects made from unconventional materials such as latex, paper and wax. This installation not only examines the innovative solutions conservators apply to one-of-a-kind problems, but also reveals the vexing and difficult decisions about how to preserve works in a way that is true to the intentions of artists.
Third Floor: Modern and Contemporary Painting and Sculpture
Universal themes of human experience and ideas ranging from science to spirituality are explored through a diverse selection of paintings and sculpture on the third floor. Works with common themes—from the weight of history felt in works by Christian Boltanski and Anselm Kieffer, to the power of color exercised in the paintings of Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, to the conspicuous lack of color in selected works by Lucio Fontana, Franz Kline, Frank Stella and others—are presented for viewers to discover, consider and form their own conclusions. Some galleries showcase works by the same artist or artists living during the same period; elsewhere art from the first half of the 20th century is shown alongside more recent works. Several galleries are also dedicated to artists whose work the Hirshhorn has collected in depth.
Modern paintings by Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet and Antonio Saura are juxtaposed with modern sculpture by Reg Butler and Alberto Giacometti. Treasures from the Hirshhorn’s collection, such as Constantin Brancusi’s “Torso of a Young Man” (1924), Piet Mondrian’s “Composition with Blue and Yellow” (1935) and the 1949 painting “Covenant” by Barnett Newman, are shown together with paintings by Agnes Martin and a sculpture by Christopher Wilmarth in galleries that explore geometry and abstraction throughout the 20th century.
The third floor also features galleries dedicated to works by major artists. A gallery of Alexander Calder mobiles, sculptures and works-on-paper traces the evolution of the artist’s work in the 1940s and 1950s. A second room devoted to Ed Ruscha brings works back to the Hirshhorn’s walls that have not been on view for many years, including “Robin, Pencils” (1965) and his famous painting “The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire” (1965-1968). Three small still lifes by Giorgio Morandi also hang in a gallery by themselves, creating a meditative space in which to reflect on the paintings and to read biographical materials on the artist.
Hirshhorn Brings Contemporary Artwork to Public Sites Around Washington
“Gyroscope” extends beyond the Hirshhorn’s signature curved walls into the greater Washington community with a monumental artwork designed by artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996). “Untitled (For Jeff)” consists of a large-scale photographic image of the palm of an extended hand that will be installed at sites throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. The first billboard, measuring 25-by-34 feet, premiered on the facade of the Hirshhorn facing Independence Avenue on July 15 and will appear in July and August at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Gallery of Art, two commercial buildings in Washington, D.C. and four roadside locations in Maryland and Virginia.
“Untitled (For Jeff),” named after a healthcare worker who nursed the artist’s dying friend, was made in 1992 and acquired by the Hirshhorn in 1995. The piece was designed by the artist to be presented in billboard format at multiple public sites whenever it is exhibited by the museum. Interpretations of the hand, which is extended in a gesture of welcome, assistance or support, vary depending on the environment and neighborhood in which the billboards are presented. Gonzalez-Torres, a Cuban-born artist who grew up in Puerto Rico and lived and worked in New York City during the 1980s and 1990s, was known for creating billboard works in cities throughout the world and for other gallery- and museum-based projects that invite public participation.
About the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the nation’s museum of modern and contemporary international art, has one of the most comprehensive collections of modern sculpture in the world and serves an estimated 700,000 visitors annually, making it one of the most visited institutions of its kind. The museum’s rapidly growing permanent collection encompasses approximately 11,500 paintings, sculptures, mixed media installations and works on paper—including significant collections of contemporary art, European painting since World War II, and American painting since the late 19th century. The museum maintains active exhibition and educational programs, examining and informing the public about the art of our time.
The Hirshhorn opened on Oct. 1, 1974 as a result of one individual’s collecting efforts and generous gift. Philanthropist Joseph H. Hirshhorn donated his extensive personal collection of modern and contemporary art to the United States via the Smithsonian Institution in 1966. The Hirshhorn is one of 16 museums of the Smithsonian Institution and part of its International Art Museums Division, which also includes the Freer Gallery of Art, National Museum of African Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
Museum Hours and Location
The Hirshhorn Museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., seven days a week (closed Christmas Day, Dec. 25). On Thursday evenings through Aug. 28 (except Aug. 21), the museum remains open until 8 p.m. The Hirshhorn is located at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W. By Metrorail, take the L’Enfant Plaza Metro stop, and exit at Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street. Admission to the museum is free.