Detail view of Pat Steir: Color Wheel, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2019. Photo: Alex Munro. Courtesy Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

On view October 24, 2019, through June 13, 2021

For more than a year, the Hirshhorn hosted the largest painting installation to date by the acclaimed abstract painter Pat Steir. The exhibition was an expansive new suite of paintings by the artist, spanning the entire perimeter of the Museum’s second-floor inner-circle galleries and extending nearly four hundred linear feet. These thirty immersive, large-scale works transformed the Museum into a vibrant spectrum of color; presented together as a group, they created an immense color wheel that shifted hues with each painting, with the pours on each canvas often appearing in the complementary hue of the monochrome background.

Over the past four decades, Steir has produced a commanding body of abstract paintings that draw on her distinctive method of combining meticulous brushwork with multiple layers of drips and pours, simultaneously carefully calibrated and apparently random. Influenced by motifs from Chinese ink painting and gestural abstraction, Steir’s paintings are formed by brushing and pouring multiple layers of paint, allowing gravity to guide the cascading forms. Her signature technique echoes the metaphysical ideas of harmony with nature expressed in Zen Buddhist and Daoist thought, even as it redefines the conventional flat picture plane to sculpt deep, transcendent space. At the Hirshhorn, this commission activated the entire gallery as visitors walked around the space, exploring the wheel’s spectrums. Moreover, Steir’s paintings created a dialogue with the Gordon Bunshaft-designed outdoor fountain and seasonal changes visible through the Museum’s windows.

Curated by Evelyn C. Hankins, Senior Curator


Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1940, Steir studied art and philosophy at Boston University and earned a bachelor of fine arts from Pratt Institute in 1962. Over the past fifty years, she has exhibited extensively in America and Europe, with solo exhibition at institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands; P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York; the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Musee d’art Contemporain, Lyon, France; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; and Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam, among others. Her most recent solo exhibition was on view at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia through November 17, 2019.

Select public collections include Louvre, Paris; Tate Gallery, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Denver Art Museum; the Brooklyn Museum; the Baltimore Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.

In 2016, Steir was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2017 was presented with the U.S. Department of State’s National Medal of the Arts. She received the National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist’s Grant in 1973 and an Honorary Degree of Fine Art from Pratt Institute in 1991. Steir is also a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1982.


Pat Steir: Color Wheel was organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and was made possible with generous support from Agnes Gund, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Mihael, Mahy, and Christos Polymeropoulos. The Museum is also grateful for additional funding provided by Locks Gallery, the Hirshhorn International Council, and the Hirshhorn Collectors’ Council.

Special thanks to Lévy Gorvy.