JUN 9, 2016-SEP 4, 2017
Joseph Hirshhorn (American, b. Mitau, Latvia, 1899–1981), whose 1966 gift to the nation of nearly 6,000 works led to the creation of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, was a passionate and knowledgeable collector. He amassed art by some of the greatest figures of modernism, such as Auguste Rodin and Willem de Kooning, and took risks by supporting emerging artists. Since its opening in 1974, the Hirshhorn has carried on its founder’s legacy through an active and ambitious program of acquisitions. Its highly regarded collection charts the development of modern and contemporary art from the late 19th century to the present, across the world and across media.
Masterworks from the Hirshhorn Collection, a new rehanging of the third-level permanent collection galleries, featured highlights of Joseph Hirshhorn’s original gift alongside some of the newest additions to the collection. Featuring more than 75 works in virtually all media, the exhibition included several major artworks returning to view after more than a decade, such as Jean-Paul Riopelle’s 1964 Large Triptych, as well as in-depth installations devoted to some of the most important artists in the collection. More than a dozen paintings and works on paper by Willem de Kooning were exhibited alongside sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, creating a riveting conversation between two of the 20th century’s greatest figurative artists. Other cornerstones of the collection on view were Constantin Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse I (1909–1910), Edward Hopper’s Eleven A.M. (1926), Ed Ruscha’s The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (1965–1968), Louise Bourgeois’s Legs (1986/cast 2008), and Ron Mueck’s Untitled (Big Man) (2000).
New cultural histories were represented by some of the most recent additions to the Hirshhorn’s collection. Brazil-based Mexican artist Héctor Zamora’s O Abuso da História (The Abuse of History) (2014) is video of a a riotously destructive group performance at São Paulo’s historic Hospital Matarazzo. Shown in the Lerner Room, overlooking the National Mall, Cuban artist Reynier Leyva Novo’s 5 Nights (2014) maps revolutionary 20th-century manifestos by Lenin, Hitler, Castro, Mao, and Gadhafi to conceptual monochromes based on the amount of ink spilled in the writing of each text. In an adjacent room was a massive sculptural installation by Argentinian artist Eduardo Basualdo, The End of Ending (2012), which occupied all but a sliver of walkable space in the gallery. Also appearing at the museum for the first time was the performative sculpture R.S.V.P. X (1976/2014) by Senga Nengudi, who was among a group of artists in 1970s Los Angeles who explored conceptual art in their pursuit of a distinctly African American aesthetic.
The exhibition was augmented by a special loan of Peter Doig’s painting Spearfishing (2013), which hung alongside richly colored canvases by Francis Bacon, Richard Diebenkorn, and Wifredo Lam.
Curated by Stéphane Aquin, Chief Curator