Hirshhorn breaks ground on debated sculpture garden redesign

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The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden broke ground on its hotly debated renovation of the sculpture garden Wednesday in a ceremony presided over by First Lady Jill Biden, artists and museum leaders. Speaking to a crowd seated near the works of henry moore Y tony cragg In the garden on a crisp fall afternoon, the first lady, fresh off the midterm campaign trail, reflected on the power of art in chaotic times and praised the renovation for its goal of expanding the museum’s reach.

“This project will create a place that will draw more people to the treasures within, where they are invited to stop, sit, and reflect,” Biden said. “This garden invites everyone to breathe, look within ourselves and experience life in the moment.”

Designed by Japanese artist and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto, the project, estimated to cost in the tens of millions of dollars, will connect the sculpture garden to the plaza and the museum building via an underground passage, which architect Gordon Bunshaft included in the original 1974 garden design. It will also increase the amount of art from the Joseph Hirshhorn Foundation Endowment on display on the East Lawn by 50 percent. The garden will close next spring for renovation, which is expected to last about two years.

Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III and Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu participated in Wednesday’s event, as did artists Jeff Koons, Adam Pendleton and laurie andersonall of which are related to the museum.

The garden has seen some evolutions over the years. landscape architect Lester Collins redesigned it in 1981, adding walls that divided the space into open-air galleries. In 1993, James Urban reconfigured the space even further and added more greenery.

After Sugimoto laid out his vision, critics raised concerns about his proposal to use stacked stone for the garden’s interior partition, saying it was not faithful to the original Brutalist design and his plans to alter the size of the original reflecting pool. The discussions continued for almost three years. Ultimately, the museum decided to rebuild the partition wall with concrete and use stacked stone for the interior galleries. And instead of disturbing the reflecting pool, they will add a second water source, which can be drained to accommodate performances. the project was finally approved the last December.

That fight was not ignored on Wednesday. Sugimoto, who was the subject of a retrospective at the Hirshhorn in 2006 and also renovated the museum lobby in 2018, told attendees that he was “astonished” by the backlash against his vision. He said that he had many moments where he thought he would never join.

“Now, I’m standing at the opening and I keep thinking: ‘This is a miracle.’ The architect continued to thank both his supporters and his opponents. “You taught me how to survive in Washington, DC,” he added, laughing.

In a historic city and a museum industry famous for its resistance to change, it’s a time to rethink and reinvent. That was evident at the Hirshhorn on Wednesday, where even dapper guests in patterned winter coats sipped champagne and danced to the music. game projectthe exterior of the museum remained under construction as scaffolding covered the walls and a bright yellow crane was parked next to the building.

With the opening, the Hirshhorn, which is the only Smithsonian museum embedded in the National Mall, begins the second phase of a major revitalization that will also include an interior renovation announced in october. And there could be more changes to the Mall. Last month, the Smithsonian revealed their preferred locations for the new National Museum of the American Latino and the Museum of American Women’s History, both of which he hopes to locate on the Mall, though not everyone agrees with that proposal.

This changing landscape raises questions about how to stay true to artistic visions, whether it be architect Bunshaft’s 20th-century vision of the Hirshhorn or planner Pierre L’Enfant’s 18th-century vision of the mall, while pushing these historic places forward. towards the future. The Smithsonian on Wednesday underscored its belief that the changes can elevate these sites to meet a moment that prioritizes diversity and access.

Opinion | Yes, the museums that honor women and Latinos belong to the National Mall.

Bunch praised Sugimoto’s plan, saying that it will “transform this garden into a space that is better suited for larger audiences, accommodates performances; in essence, it makes the Hirshhorn accessible to the millions of people who walk the National Mall. What excites me is that the Mall has always been a place that has changed, that has evolved.”

Seeking to attract more visitors, Hirshhorn will widen the north entrance to the garden from 20 feet to 60 feet with the hopes of improving the visibility of the sculpture garden and the passage to the museum.

“As the only major museum of modern art that is free and open to the public, we are committed to radical accessibility in every sense of the term,” said Chiu, Hirshhorn director. Speaking to The Washington Post after the event, he added that “the combination of art, architecture and landscape design is unique in the new design and the goal is to make people feel more connected to art.”

As they progressed with the project, the past was present. The sculpture has a unique legacy at Hirshhorn, whose founding donor, Joseph Hirshhorn, was known for amassing bronzes by Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore. Bunshaft wanted the museum’s donut-shaped building to function as a giant three-dimensional work of art, standing on top of smaller works in the garden.

Sugimoto said Bunshaft’s original design was influenced by Zen gardens and inspired his 21st century style. redesign, which makes use of pre-modern Japanese aesthetics. “He’s picking up where Bunshaft left off.”

After the event, Sugimoto pointed out “Figure” by Jacques Lipchitz, which had a sample of stacked stone wall behind it. “To praise a modern masterpiece like this, what is the best background? It must be a pre-modern wall. The background is old and the sculpture is new,” he told The Post.

Many also called attention to the presence of Biden, who honored Lady Bird Johnson, the first lady who played a significant role in founding Hirshhorn. Biden has been carving out something of his own artistic legacy: she spoke at the Inauguration of the Molina Family Latino Gallery in June and visited the African American Museum to celebrate its post-vaccine reopening in 2021. (It is also known fan of the artist Mary Page Evans.)

But in his remarks, Biden framed the moment less as great paintings and legacies and more as the personal experience of art. She described visiting the Alex Katz exhibition at the Guggenheim after a hard day of campaigning.

Walking through it, “I felt myself exhale the buzz of the day,” he said. “In a world that asks us to run from one moment to the next, from one meeting to the next, art stops us in our tracks. It feeds our spirit when we are hungry for something more.”

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