Image: Pat Steir. Photo by Grace Roselli for the Pandora's BoxX Project.

Aug. 27, 2019

Hirshhorn Presents Acclaimed Artist Pat Steir’s Largest Suite of Paintings to Date
Expansive 30-Painting Installation Will Span Nearly 400 Linear Feet Around Museum’s Inner-Circle Gallery

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will present the largest painting installation to date by the acclaimed abstract painter Pat Steir. Organized by Evelyn Hankins, the Hirshhorn’s senior curator, “Pat Steir: Color Wheel” is an expansive new suite of paintings by the artist, spanning the entire perimeter of the museum’s second-floor inner-circle galleries, extending nearly 400 linear feet. On view Oct. 24, 2019–Jan. 18, 2021, Steir’s immersive work will transform the museum into a vibrant spectrum of color. The 30 large-scale paintings, when presented together as a group, will create two overlapping color wheels formed by the shifting hues of each painting, with the pours on each canvas often in the complementary hue of the apparently monochrome background made up of five to eleven layers of color.

“We are honored to present this new suite of paintings in direct response to the Museum’s architecture by Pat Steir, one of the most influential artists working today,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “Steir’s signature, multilayered canvases have time and time again redefined what it means to be a contemporary painter. Working within a framework that is simultaneously both painterly and conceptual, she has continued to create radical and profound abstractions.”

Over the past four decades, Steir has produced a commanding body of abstract paintings that draw on the artist’s distinctive practice of combining meticulously placed brushwork with the variable of chance, simultaneously carefully calibrated and apparently determined by gravity. Drawing on motifs from Chinese ink painting and gestural abstraction, Steir’s paintings are formed by brushing and pouring multiple layers of paint, allowing the pigments to cascade freely downward. 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.

For her Hirshhorn presentation, Steir drew inspiration from the museum’s distinctive cylindrical architecture, which for her conjured one of the painter’s most essential tools: the color wheel. Each painting features a unique background hue, whose luminescent effect reflects the intermingling of the many layers of paint rivulets that stream down the canvas. Upon these seemingly monochromatic surfaces, Steir places a broad central gesture, generally but not always in the background’s complementary color. These works testify not only to the expressive possibilities that can develop from a finite set of variables, but more radically to the understanding of gestural painting as a conceptual practice. The suite of 30 paintings will activate the entire gallery as visitors walk around the space, exploring the wheels’ spectrums. Moreover, Steir’s paintings will create a dialogue with the Gordon Bunshaft-designed outdoor fountain and seasonal changes visible through the museum’s windows.

In November 2017 Steir, then 78, was one of 31 women artists honored at the Hirshhorn’s Gala in New York. By inviting leading artists to respond to its unique circular galleries, the Hirshhorn continues to provide a singular architectural platform for site-specific experiences, building on the success of recent projects such as “Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge” and “Linn Meyers: Our View from Here.”

About the Artist

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 50 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 is on view at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia through Nov. 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, Brooklyn; the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

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.

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. With nearly 12,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media installations, works on paper and new media works, 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. For more information, visit

Image: Pat Steir. Photo by Grace Roselli for the Pandora’s BoxX Project.