The Hirshhorn Museum opened in 1974 on the National Mall, with a collection of modern and contemporary art donated by Joseph Hirshhorn. Outside the museum is a beautiful sculpture garden.
The museum is named for its founding donor, Joseph H. Hirshhorn. In the early twentieth century, his mother moved with her thirteen children from Latvia to Brooklyn.
When he was sixteen, Joseph Hirshhorn became a stockbroker on Wall Street, where he made a fortune. Later, he had successful ventures in the mining business, which solidified his wealth. This allowed him to invest time and money in his passion, modern art. He acquired his first works of art at the age of eighteen, and during his lifetime Hirshhorn amassed an enormous collection of four thousand paintings and two thousand sculptures.
Founding of the Museum
In 1966 Joseph Hirshhorn bequeathed his collection to the Smithsonian Institution. The museum and its sculpture garden were officially established that same year by Act of Congress. Construction of a new museum building on the National Mall started in January 1969, and it opened to the public five years later.
The Smithsonian asked the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to come up with a provoking design suitable for the display of modern art.
The firm’s lead architect, Gordon Bunshaft – of Lever House fame – designed a concrete building in the shape of a hollow cylindrical drum with a diameter of about seventy meters (231 ft). The drum rests on four massive pylons. The exposed concrete facade gives the building a bunker-like appearance, which some interpret as a metaphor for the perceived disconnection between contemporary art and society.
The building looks more inviting when seen from the circular courtyard, where the facade is defined by large rectangular windows. There’s also a large window with a balcony on the third floor, from where you have a beautiful view over the Mall and the Sculpture Garden.
A selection of the museum’s holdings, mostly sculptures and paintings, are displayed on the second and third floor. Additionally, there are selected works – often new acquisitions – exhibited on the lower level. More sculptures are displayed outside on the plaza around the cylindrical building and in the recessed Sculpture Garden across the street.
The museum is especially strong in French and American art. Some of the most recognizable artists whose work is represented here include Picasso, Degas, Salvador Dalí, Magritte, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Roy Lichtenstein and de Kooning. The works are constantly rotated, but the official website of the museum has an overview of current works on display.
The Sculpture Garden
The Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden is a wonderful, sunken garden situated on the National Mall, just north of the Hirshhorn Museum Building. Some of the museum’s best sculptures are displayed here, and the garden is certainly worth a visit, even for those who aren’t too keen on modern art.
In a beautiful varied environment with trees, shrubs, wild grass and lawns laid out over two levels, you find an interesting collection of sculpture from some of the greatest names of the last one hundred fifty years. Some of the notable works in the garden include Auguste Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, Marino Marini’s ‘Horse and Rider’, Aristide Maillol’s ‘Action in Chains’ and Joan Miró’s ‘Lunar Bird’. Henry Moore is particularly well represented with several works including ‘Vertebrae’ and ‘King and Queen’.