An Overview Of The Hirshhorn Museum

October 11, 2022

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the Smithsonian Institution’s museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Centrally located on the National Mall, the museum is easily accessible from all other Smithsonian museums and Washington monuments.

The Hirshhorn collection offers an array of exhibits of modern art sculptures by Auguste Rodin the interactive installations by Yayoi Kusama, all with free admission.

Read on to learn more about the history of this D.C. institution and upcoming exhibitions for planning your next trip.

History of the Hirshhorn

Joseph H. Hirshhorn, after enjoying great success from uranium-mining investments, began creating his iconic fine art collection. His favorite works ranged from classic French Impressionism, American modernism of the early 20th century, and sculpture.

Word of his collection of modern and contemporary paintings also circulated, and institutions in Italy, Israel, Canada, California, and New York City vied for it. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley successfully campaigned for a new museum on the National Mall.

In 1966, an Act of Congress established the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. The groundbreaking was in 1969, and Abram Lerner was named the founding director. He oversaw the research, conservation, and installation of more than 6,000 items brought from the Hirshhorns’ Connecticut estate and other properties to Washington, DC.

The museum was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft (1909–1990) and provides 60,000 square feet of exhibition space inside and nearly four acres outside in its two-level Sculpture Garden and plaza.

Structure of red steel beams by Mark di Suvero outside the Hirshhorn Museum at the Smithsonian Institute

The Hirshhorn Main Galleries

The museum consists of four levels, three comprising the museum galleries and the main floor housing restrooms, the welcome desk, and the dolcezza cafe.

The Museum Shop is located on the lower level, accompanying the lower gallery space used for circulating exhibitions. The ongoing installation of Barbara Kruger’s Belief and Doubt connects the shop with the lower-level exhibition space.

The other two gallery floors offer a variety of rooms in which you move around the museum. The structure’s circular architecture offers visitors a viewing experience of ease.

Throughout the floors, there are gallery guides to help assist with descriptions of the artwork or interactive activities.

View inside the main gallery of the Hirshhorn Museum.

The Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden

Outside the museum, facing toward the National Mall is the museum’s sculpture garden.

Developed in 1971 by Bunchaft, the garden’s design is meant to not distract from the National Mall, so it is deliberately sunken in and stark, using gravel surfaces and minimal plantings to visually emphasize the works of art it inhabits. The garden features works by artists including Auguste Rodin, David Smith, Alexander Calder, Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy, Jeff Koons, and others.

Since 2007, Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree for Washington, DC, has been a permanent installation in the Sculpture Garden.

What Are the Highlights of the Hirshhorn Collection?

Notable artists in the collection include Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning, Ellsworth Kelly, Louise Nevelson, Arshile Gorky, Edward Hopper, and Raphael Soyer, among others.

Interior of Kusama pumpkin in the Hirshhorn museum

The Hirshhorn Museum also boasts an impressive collection of Contemporary Art. Currently on view until November 2022 is the Yayoi Kusama One With Eternity show. The exhibition features the Hirshhorn’s permanent collection of works by Kusama, including two of her Infinity Mirror Rooms her first and one of her most recent creating a dazzling sensation of never-ending space.

How Long Does It Take To See the Hirshhorn Museum?

Guided tours offered by the museum, on average, take about two to three hours. We recommend allotting the same amount of time, even if touring on your own, to appreciate all the exhibitions and permanent collections on display fully.

What Is On View At The Hirshhorn Museum?

To stay up to date on upcoming exhibitions at the museum, be sure to visit their website.

Currently on View at the Hirshhorn Are the Following:

Put It This Way: (Re) Visions of the Hirshhorn Collection Aug 02, 2022 – Fall 2023

One with Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection Apr 01 – Nov 27, 2022

Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge Nov 08, 2017- Ongoing

Barbara Kruger: Belief + Doubt Aug 20, 2012 – Ongoing

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