July 23, 2020
Hirshhorn Announces Acquisition of Major Outdoor Sculptures by Huma Bhabha and Sterling Ruby
Introduction of Two Contemporary Artists to the Sculpture Garden Expands Collection, Anticipates Reopening and Eventual Revitalization
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has announced significant acquisitions of new works by leading contemporary artists Huma Bhabha and Sterling Ruby. Through their respective practices, Bhabha and Ruby have worked for decades to create thought-provoking artwork that challenges viewers to understand sculpture in new ways. By adding two works to the permanent collection, the museum gives viewers the opportunity to engage directly with sculptural work relevant to both history and the contemporary moment. Each artwork is installed in the museum’s sculpture garden, located on the National Mall, uniquely situating them at the center of diverse interdisciplinary conversations related to American politics, history and culture.
“We’re excited to welcome two monumental outdoor sculptures by Huma Bhabha and Sterling Ruby into the museum’s collection,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “Each artwork carries significant political resonance and encourages visitors to engage with timely issues through art. As we move forward with plans to revitalize our sculpture garden in collaboration with contemporary artist and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto, we continue to work diligently to determine the necessities for a sculpture garden in the 21st century. We look forward to sharing these artworks when we are able to reopen our sculpture garden safely.”
Bhabha’s and Ruby’s artworks will have significant impact on the museum’s collection, bringing with them thought-provoking new interpretations of the traditions of canonical sculpture. The two artworks also explore the ways in which artists working today use their practices as a means to address contemporary political and societal issues. Welcoming Bhabha’s “We Come in Peace” (2018) to the collection showcases the museum’s commitment to ensuring that transnational contemporary art and the work of midcareer female sculptors are successfully represented. Sterling Ruby’s “DOUBLE CANDLE” (2018) tests the formal limits of its medium and reexamines notions of beauty, underscoring the Hirshhorn’s goal of supporting experimentation and artists who are willing to challenge the practice of art-making itself. The two works will create compelling dialogues alongside the museum’s strong existing holdings, referencing the techniques of Rodin, Picasso and Giacometti and other sculptors of the past whose works are part of the collection.
Pakistani-American artist Bhabha (b. 1962) lives and works in Poughkeepsie, New York, and is best known as a figurative sculptor whose striking characters often seem to have emerged from both a prehistoric past and a postapocalyptic future. “We Come in Peace,” first conceptualized in response to a rooftop commission from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is a many-faced, intersex monumental figure standing more than 12 feet tall. Originally hand-carved in cork and Styrofoam and subsequently cast in bronze, the towering creature evokes both brokenness and resilience. Bhabha, who often cites pulp horror and science-fiction cinema as important points of departure, drew the title of the piece from director Robert Wise’s 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still. In the film, an alien emerges from a spaceship that has just landed on the White House lawn and utters the words “We have come to visit you in peace” to an agitated group of military and civilians, who soon open fire upon the stranger. Bhabha embeds her practice within a long sculptural tradition extending from ancient Eastern statuary through Western classicism to modernism. To these concerns she adds specific inquiries into the complicated realities of the postcolonial and imperialistic present, where the idea of “the Other” is still too often weaponized to generate and justify suspicion, aggression and oppression. “We Come in Peace” poses questions about the understanding of the familiar and unfamiliar, the alien and the native, serving as a timely reminder of America’s complicated and often contradictory relationship with those who make their way here from foreign shores.
With a practice spanning various media, including textiles, painting, photography, video, ceramics, fashion design and sculpture, American artist Ruby (b. 1972) is recognized as one of the most prolific, energetic and inventive artists working today. Originally from rural Pennsylvania, Ruby has established himself as one of a core group of Los Angeles thinkers and makers who follow in the antiestablishment West Coast lineage established by artists such as Mike Kelley, Chris Burden, Peter Voulkos and Ken Price. “DOUBLE CANDLE” comprises two towering candles standing more than 24 feet tall. It is rendered in bronze, employing one of sculpture’s heaviest, most lasting and traditional materials to capture and hold an ephemeral and fleeting moment of flickering light. Sited in the Hirshhorn’s sculpture garden on the National Mall, the candles will stand as recognizable beacons: twinned totems with a resolute yet melancholic presence that calls to national memory and unity.
About the Collection
The Hirshhorn’s permanent collection of roughly 12,000 artworks includes pieces by leading artists from the late 19th century to the present day and comprises paintings, sculptures, photographs, mixed‑media installations, works on paper and new media works. The Hirshhorn has one of the most comprehensive collections of modern sculpture in the world, with many examples on view indoors and in the Sculpture Garden.
An active acquisitions program continually adds work to the collection in all media, with an emphasis on new work and the work of artists exhibiting at and collaborating with the museum. Artists such as Ai Weiwei, Mark Bradford, David Hammons, Mona Hatoum, Robert Irwin, Yoko Ono, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Susan Philipsz, Adrian Piper, Gerhard Richter, Doris Salcedo and Rachel Whiteread are represented by major works. Global modernism is also a collecting focus, and recent additions include works by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Natsuyuki Nakanishi and Park Seobo. African American artists whose work has recently entered the collection include Charles Gaines, Jennie C. Jones and Senga Nengudi.
About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all, 364 days a year (closed Dec. 25). For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu.
Images (left to right): Huma Bhabha in her studio; courtesy of Lauren Lancaster. Sterling Ruby in his studio; photo by Melanie Schiff; courtesy of Sterling Ruby Studio.