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Hirshhorn Museum Acquires 15 Contemporary Works of Art

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Media only:

Gabriel Einsohn (202) 633-2822 or einsohng@si.edu

Public only:

(202) 633-1000 or www.hirshhorn.si.edu 

The Hirshhorn Museum has acquired a number of important works of art by established and emerging contemporary artists, including Olafur Eliasson, Lynda Benglis, Lorna Simpson, Thomas Demand, Janet Cardiff and more. Working in varied media and representing a diverse mix of creative minds from around the world, these artists express provocative ideas and pose questions about contemporary society. The majority of these works were gifts from board members and other supporters. 

“We are immensely grateful to the Hirshhorn board of trustees for giving an unprecedented number of gifts of art this year to honor the museum’s leadership, past and present. Their contributions have allowed us to significantly expand our holdings of key artists working around the globe today,” said Olga Viso, the Hirshhorn’s director. 

One of the highlights is Olafur Eliasson’s “Round Rainbow” (2005), which combines a spotlight mounted on a tripod and a circle of acrylic glass. This device transforms a gallery into a dynamic canvas bathed in rainbows of light and shadow. In a work that is scientific in one respect and sensual in another, the installation brings a phenomenon usually experienced in nature into the museum, encouraging people to interact with their environment in new ways. “Round Rainbow” will join “Reykjavik series,” a photographic work by Eliasson that was added to the collection in 2004. “Round Rainbow” is the gift of the museum’s board chairman and his wife, J. Tomilson, and Janine Hill and is made in honor of former Hirshhorn director Ned Rifkin. 

“Corner Piece” (1969), a museum purchase, is a poured multicolored latex sculpture by Lynda Benglis that appears to be spilled paint in the corner of the room. It is a signature early work by a pioneer of the women’s art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Benglis has successfully bridged many contradictions perpetuated by artistic convention. She embraces variety and experimentation with her explorations of formalism and emotion, decoration and embellishment, vulgarity and beauty, all the while reminding her viewers of the sheer pleasure of looking. 

These recent acquisitions also underscore the Hirshhorn’s commitment to enhancing the museum’s collection of photography, film and video, as well as the museum’s desire to collect artists in depth. Several photographic works by Lorna Simpson, one of the most accomplished artists working in photography and film today, have been acquired. 

Simpson is best known for her series of photographs and text based imagery that confront racial stereotypes. “Five Day Forecast” (1988) is a series of five black-and-white prints and 15 engraved plaques. The work is the partial and promised gift of Barbara and Aaron Levine in honor of former director Ned Rifkin and Olga M. Viso’s appointment as current director. “Haze” (1998) is a serigraph on felt panels and is the gift of Sean and Mary Kelly in honor of Viso. Simpson’s “Flipside” (1991), two gelatin silver prints and an engraved plastic plaque, was purchased by the Hirshhorn to complement the gifts by the museum’s donors. 

The Hirshhorn purchased Isaac Julien’s “Fantôme Créole” (2005) to strengthen its collection of film installation work. This four-screen 16 mm film (transferred to DVD) is comprised of a montage of images shot in Burkina Faso, West Africa; footage from northern Scandinavia and vintage clips from ethnographic films. Julien’s multifaceted picturing of black subjects contrasts with the more expected imagery of African and American blacks found in the archival clips and movie posters also featured in the film. 

Thomas Demand’s large-scale photograph “Leuchtkasten (Lightbox)” (2004), represents an object that seems “real,” however, every tube and wire documented in the picture is actually constructed from paper, creating a tension between fact and illusion. This work is the partial and promised gift of Jeanne and Michael L. Klein in honor of Rifkin and is the first work by Demand to enter into the Hirshhorn collection. 

Also enhancing the Hirshhorn’s collection of photography is the museum’s purchase of Lee Friedlander’s “The Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden: Fifty-Two Photographs, 1975-1977” (1978), a book of photographs that captures the original Sculpture Garden. Paul Pfeiffer’s digitally manipulated photograph “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (8)” (2005) transforms a National Basketball Association archival image of an athlete into an archetypal symbol of mass devotion. This work is the partial and promised gift of Glenn Fuhrman in honor of Ned Rifkin and in memory of Peter A. Lane.

Janet Cardiff’s “Feedback” (2004) is an interactive sound piece that plays a Jimi Hendrix rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” when the visitor steps on a wah-wah pedal. “Feedback” is a gift in honor of Rifkin by Tom and Kitty Stoner and Audrey and Ken Weil and further expands the Hirshhorn’s collection of art made with new and, or nontraditional media. (The Hirshhorn featured a commissioned audio walk by Cardiff this summer as part of the museum’s “Directions” series.)  

Two other works that use nontraditional materials include one made from an egg and one constructed of wax. Karin Sander’s “Ostrich Egg” (2005), the gift of Sue and John Wieland in honor of Rifkin, is an authentic ostrich egg that has been cooked and carefully polished into a highly reflective, jewel-like object that is displayed on a simple pedestal. Petah Coyne’s “Untitled #803” (1995), a wax-covered, chandelier-like work that hangs from the ceiling, is the gift of Jacqueline and Marc Leland. 

Also from the Lelands, in honor of the museum’s current director, Olga Viso, is “Do it yourself” (1987) by Bill Woodrow. This sculpture is made from metal boxes, a wooden chair and metal clamps. It alludes to notions of labor and agriculture and emphasizes handmade art. 

Patrick Wilson’s “1 P.M.” (2003), a vertical triptych of subtle shades of grey and cream, is the gift of Frederick P. Ognibene, who also gave American artist Renée Stout’s monotype “See the Truth” (2002) a work that suggests a hand-drawn sign. 

Many of these works are currently on view in the museum as part of “Gyroscope,” a program of dynamic, frequently changing presentations of the Hirshhorn’s preeminent collection. The Hirshhorn purchased several of the works, but most were gifts to the museum from members of the board of trustees and individual supporters in honor of Rifkin, whose tenure ended in September 2005 when he resumed his full-time position as the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary of Art. The remaining gifts were made in honor of Viso, former Hirshhorn deputy director and now the museum’s current director. 

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian’s museum of international modern and contemporary art, encompasses some 11,500 paintings, sculptures, mixed media installations and works on paper. It maintains an active exhibition program and offers an array of free public programs that explore the art of our time. The museum, located at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W., is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25), and admission is free.
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