Laure Prouvost, Swallow, 2013 Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

AUG 24, 2019–FEB 02, 2020

Feel the Sun in Your Mouth: Recent Acquisitions brought together artworks acquired by the Hirshhorn over the past five years. Highlighting works that encapsulate the current moment, the exhibition was an opportunity to acknowledge deep trends in the cultural landscape and to identify art that is opening new avenues of exploration. Filling the Museum’s lower-level galleries with more than twenty-five works in a variety of media by artists from a dozen countries, the show wove together global perspectives on critical contemporary issues.

Featuring recently created works alongside seminal avant-garde works from the 1960s and ’70s, Feel the Sun in Your Mouth illustrated a continuity of concerns from those years to the present day, illuminating an interest in the poetic, the intuitive, and the cosmic in current artistic practice. Organized by Assistant Curator Betsy Johnson, the exhibition focused on art that inspires felt sensation and demonstrated renewed attention to sublime encounters with the world. By harnessing metaphor and suggestion to create space for meanings that exist outside language, the works on view attested to the continuing possibility of mystery in a world that sometimes appears to have little left of the unknown.

Feel the Sun in Your Mouth was titled after a phrase in French artist Laure Prouvost’s Swallow (2013), a video work in the exhibition that juxtaposes classical iconography of nude bathers lounging in streams with flashes of contemporary consumer culture, coaxing viewers to notice the pleasures of the senses and embrace the real, yet often nonsensical, world that surrounds them. In addition to Swallow, Jesper Just’s Sirens of Chrome (2010) showcased the Hirshhorn’s commitment to new media. Entirely free of dialogue, Just’s video work follows a group of women through Detroit’s empty streets, breaking cinematic conventions to heighten the ambiguity of the onscreen relationships.

Other recent contemporary works on view included Tatiana Trouvé’s Les indéfinis (2014) and Alicja Kwade’s WeltenLinie (2018), two large-scale installations that explore meaning through space and heighten viewers’ awareness of the self in relation to objects in the world. WeltenLinie, inspired by the artist’s childhood spent on both sides of the Berlin Wall, visually changes as the viewer walks through and around it, its images mingling, doubling, and overlapping and its perspectives shifting. Audiences also gained insight into the next generation of painting through works by Mary Weatherford, Alex Israel, Aaron Garber-Maikovska, Avery Singer, Jill Mulleady, Katherine Bernhardt, and Jacqueline Humphries.

Anchoring the exhibition was a selection of works from the 1960s and ’70s, including John Giorno’s Dial-A-Poem (1968–2012), an interactive work in which visitors could listen to poetry on a rotary telephone in the galleries. The exhibition also featured ten photographic works by major figures from Japanese photography—Eikoh Hosoe, Minoru Hirata, Miyako Ishiuchi, Koji Enokura, and Takashi Arai—which introduced a critical history of the postwar Japanese avant-garde into the Museum’s collection.