Artist Hiroshi Sugimoto to reimagine Hirshhorn lobby as a functional artwork
“My idea was to transform the Hirshhorn’s lobby into an artwork that symbolizes what is unique about both the building and the collection. Ideally, this piece is sculpture, furniture and conceptual art, all at the same time.” – Hiroshi Sugimoto
New year, new look! For the first time in the Hirshhorn’s 42-year history, internationally acclaimed Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948, Tokyo) will reimagine the Hirshhorn’s lobby as an immersive, functional artwork, giving visitors an entirely new community space for creative inspiration.
The redesign will also include the debut of ‘Dolcezza Coffee & Gelato at Hirshhorn,’ the Museum’s first permanent coffee shop and the only locally owned café at the Smithsonian, offering specialty espresso drinks, gourmet pastries, and handcrafted seasonal gelato.
Sugimoto’s design, brought to life through his Tokyo-based architectural firm New Material Research Laboratory (NMRL), will maintain the integrity and scale of the original architecture while enhancing accessibility, functionality and visitor experience. The new space will feature a reconfigured entrance and Sugimoto-designed art objects as furnishings, welcome desks, digital signage and a dramatic 20-foot metal coffee bar, as well as a new installation of prismatic light sculpture Your oceanic feeling (2015) by noted Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The redesigned lobby will retain the terrazzo floor, coffered ceiling and exposed aggregate walls of Bunshaft’s 1970s design.
In reenvisioning the Hirshhorn space, Sugimoto looked to symbolize what is unique about both the building and the collection, ideally creating something that functions simultaneously as sculpture, furniture and conceptual art. The custom furnishings are inspired by the fundamental shape of the Hirshhorn—the circle—and the ways in which the shape appears in nature, specifically the chaotic roots of a medieval Japanese nutmeg tree. He used the 700-year-old tree as the basis for the lobby’s central group tables, surrounded by helicoid spiral chairs.
“I became fascinated by the roots of an enormous tree, which fanned out to form a large circle, and I decided that this was the circle I would install in the Hirshhorn lobby—a symbol of life,” said Sugimoto. “All art takes its inspiration from the power inherent in nature, and my hope is that as visitors enter the museum, they will experience the balance of the man-made and natural circles.”
Sugimoto is one of Japan’s most celebrated artists. His 40-year practice encompasses photography, architecture and design. “In 2006, the Hirshhorn was the first institution to present a career survey of Sugimoto’s work, and it is an honor for us to incorporate his work into the museum in a permanent way for visitors to enjoy for years to come,” said Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu.