Hirshhorn Plaza

Isamu Noguchi, Okame, 1956June 16, 2014–April 24, 2016
Drawn from the Hirshhorn’s expansive collection, Speculative Forms reconsiders the historical development of sculpture since the early twentieth century and its critique of the autonomy of the object. Including more than fifty works, this two-floor exhibition collapses conventional art historical divisions such as figurative vs. abstract; still vs. kinetic; representational vs. simplified geometric; and planar (having a modeled or carved surface) vs. stereometric (exposing the internal structure). The objects oscillate between these dichotomies, thus turning one’s preconceived notions of sculpture inside out.

Inspired by the philosophical notion of “Speculative Realism,” which emphasizes an equal relationship between subject, object, and space, the exhibition highlights the importance of installation and the viewer’s eye and body in relation to the object. The selected works—ranging from the well-known to the rarely exhibited—challenge the modernist notion that sculptures exist isolated from their surroundings. The exhibition follows these threads through Surrealism, Constructivism, Assemblage, Op and Kinetic Art, Minimalism, and Post-Minimalism. The materiality and physicality of the sculptures, on the one hand, and their more intangible, phenomenological aspects on the other, raise intriguing questions about the potential and limits of the perception of objects and the larger world.