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Hirshhorn Presents “Sitebound” and “Speculative Forms”

Darren Almond, Arctic Plate 1, 2003 and Mary Callery, Composition 19, 1960
Darren Almond, Arctic Plate 1, 2003 and Mary Callery, Composition 19, 1960

June 16, 2014

Exhibitions Feature Contemporary Photography and Modern Sculpture from the Museum’s Collection
“Sitebound: Photography from the Collection” and “Speculative Forms,” two exhibitions drawn from the collection of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in celebration of the museum’s 40th anniversary, open June 16. “Sitebound” includes a number of recent acquisitions, including photographs by Laurel Nakadate, Catherine Opie, Taryn Simon and Thomas Struth. In addition to sculptures by canonical figures such as Max Ernst, Henri Matisse and Henry Moore, “Speculative Forms” highlights less familiar works by Mary Callery, Tomonori Toyofuku, Mary Ann Unger and a number of other artists.

The subjects depicted in “Sitebound” occupy a wide range, from the forbidding terrain of the Arctic to the massive Hellenic altar at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and from the winding towers built atop mineshafts to the facades of buildings in Reykjavik. Yet all the works in the exhibition are concerned with the way documentary photography locates sites—in space and time, in history and memory, in physical geography and conceptual understanding.

Part of a series created by Struth at Disneyland, “Cinema, Anaheim, California” (2013) depicts a flight-simulation ride after hours, when the ranks of seats are empty and the screen is blank. Laying bare the physical mechanisms behind a virtual-reality experience, the scene is both magnificent and eerie, revealing the disconnect between what is real and what is imagined.

“Inauguration” (2009) by Opie is a suite of color photographs made over the course of three days she spent in Washington, D.C., for the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. Orderly rows of empty seats in front of the Capitol waiting to be filled give way to expectant crowds of spectators, then to Obama himself, glimpsed on a projection screen. After the ceremony, the trampled ground of the National Mall is littered with newspapers and American flags.

Each of the images in Nakadate’s ongoing “Relations” series depicts a single figure in a deserted landscape, lit by a flashlight wielded by the artist. Tracked through genetic-research and genealogical websites, the people are actually distant relatives, each sharing some genetic material with Nakadate. In “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, Chapter V” (2008–11), Taryn Simon also explores bloodlines, recording the incidents of chance and fate that surround a South Korean seaman abducted by North Korean agents.

The works in “Sitebound” extend the concept of documentary photography in ways that allow for imagination and conjecture, and the sites that are at the core of these images emphasize identification and investigation.

“Speculative Forms” draws on the nonhierarchical model of “speculative realism,” an ontological philosophy that rejects the notion that humankind is the central element of existence, to examine the relationships that exist between objects. The exhibition aims to break down and reassess art-historical categories by looking at works of art that would not normally be shown together. Martin Puryear’s postminimalist “Timber’s Turn” (1987), a massive construction of dovetailed wooden planks, is shown alongside a much smaller biomorphic modernist wood carving by Henry Moore from 1935.

Surrealist figures fashioned from concrete by Max Ernst in 1948, during his time in Sedona, Ariz., oscillate between figuration and abstraction, as does Julie MacDonald’s “Ocean Creature #2” (1961). When caught in the light, two tiny eyelike indentations allow her elegant marble disc to suggest a flatfish.

Seemingly the product of both mathematical reasoning and the empirical observation of nature, Jack Zajac’s “Breaking Wave I” (1966-69) hovers somewhere between unitary and illusionistic form. Its placement near Sol LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing No. 3” (1969) draws out the subtle deviations of the later work’s execution from the strict geometries of its minimalist plan.

Works by Callery and David Slivka present the apparent contradiction of a kinetic process captured in fixed, material form. The slender, continuous curves and angles of her “Composition 19” (1960) suggest a drawing in space, while his “Night” (1962) folds in on itself, as though crushed by great pressure.

By emphasizing the equal standing of subject, object and space, “Speculative Forms” allows preconceived notions about sculpture to be turned inside out. Half of “Speculative Forms” opens June 16 on the second level of the museum; the other half opens on the third level, as soon as ongoing renovation permits.

“Sitebound: Photography from the Collection” is organized by assistant curators Melissa Ho and Mika Yoshitake. “Speculative Forms” is organized by Yoshitake.

About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian’s museum of international modern and contemporary art, has nearly 12,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media installations, works on paper and new media works in its collection. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs that explore modern and contemporary art. Located at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W., the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission to the galleries and special programs is free. For more information about exhibitions and events, visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the Hirshhorn on Facebook at facebook.com/hirshhorn, on Twitter at twitter.com/hirshhorn and on Tumblr at hirshhorn.tumblr.com. Or sign up for the museum’s eBlasts at hirshhorn.si.edu/collection/social-media. To request accessibility services, contact Kristy Maruca at marucak@si.edu or (202) 633-2796, preferably two weeks in advance.

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