an afternoon at the hirshhorn museum & sculpture garden

Saturday, December 7:   The current exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum is Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950.  The exhibit has been running since October 24, 2013 and will run until May 26, 2014. I thought this an appropriate exhibit to visit on this day, 62 years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

the current exhibit at the Hirshhorn
the current exhibit at the Hirshhorn

The Hirshhorn’s website describes the exhibit thus: While destruction as a theme can be traced throughout art history, from the early atomic age it has become a pervasive cultural element. In the immediate post-World War II years, to invoke destruction in art was to evoke the war itself: the awful devastation of battle, the firebombing of entire cities, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and, of course, the Holocaust. Art seemed powerless in the face of that terrible history. But by the early 1950s, with the escalation of the arms race and the prospect of nuclear annihilation, the theme of destruction in art took on a new energy and meaning. In the decades since, destruction has persisted as an essential component of artistic expression. Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950 offers an overview of this prevalent motif (Hirshhorn: Damage Control).

The Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn
the center of the cylindrical-shaped Hirshhorn
the center of the cylindrical-shaped Hirshhorn

Sadly, I wasn’t able to photograph the exhibit, except for this repeating film, showing a beautiful girl in a flowing chiffon dress sashaying down a city street, bashing car windows with a long-stemmed flower that in actuality must be an iron pole.

one of the continuously running films at the exhibit
one of the continuously running films at the exhibit

In another continuously running film, a well-heeled man sits in his modern apartment and stares at a tomato.  In alternating scenes, a pony-tailed man, a poor artsy type, sits in his messy apartment staring at a chunk of tree bark.  The two men meet in a studio and sit in chairs facing each other; a woman in black acts as referee and signals them to begin.  They both stare and stare at each other.  Suddenly both of their heads explode off their bodies, blood shooting everywhere.  Yikes!

In a series of three photographs, a Chinese man holds a Ming dynasty vase, in the second he starts to drop it, and in the third, the vase shatters at his feet.

In several dark rooms we see films of atomic bombs exploding and a truck dragging a violin by a chain through a field.

Destruction, destruction everywhere.

I prefer the exhibit in the basement of the museum, adjacent to the gift shop.  Barbara Kruger’s “Belief+Doubt” fills the surfaces of the lower lobby with massive-type anti-consumerist statements—for example, “YOU WANT IT. YOU BUY IT. YOU FORGET IT.”—some of which extend into the newly relocated museum bookstore.

Belief+Doubt
Belief+Doubt
Kruger's Belief+Doubt
Kruger’s Belief+Doubt
Kruger's Belief+Doubt
Kruger’s Belief+Doubt
Kruger's Belief+Doubt
Kruger’s Belief+Doubt
Kruger's Belief+Doubt
Kruger’s Belief+Doubt
Kruger's Belief+Doubt
Kruger’s Belief+Doubt
Kruger's Belief+Doubt
Kruger’s Belief+Doubt
Kruger's Belief+Doubt
Kruger’s Belief+Doubt next to the gift shop

On the third floor, I look in vain for a bronze sculpture by Rodin, called She Who Was Once the Helmet-Maker’s Beautiful Wife.  I ask the guard because most of the third floor is cordoned off.  He thinks the museum still has the piece, but he says that most of the 2nd floor permanent collection had to go into storage to make room for the Art and Destruction exhibit.  In 2001, I attended a poetry class at the Hirshhorn where we were assigned to write a poem about something in the museum; I wrote a poem about that sculpture.  I wanted to post the poem on my blog with an accompanying picture, but alas, it was not to be.

I do see a few other interesting pieces on the third floor.

a spiral of bottles
a spiral of bottles
a painting from a bird's eye view
a painting from a bird’s-eye view

I wander outside to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, which features works by artists including Auguste Rodin, David Smith, Alexander Calder, Jeff Koons and others.

Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden – The Burghers of Calais
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden

I circle the bunker-like museum one last time and find a couple of other sculptures on the grounds.

sculpture outside the Hirshhorn
sculpture outside the Hirshhorn
sculpture outside the Hirshhorn
sculpture outside the Hirshhorn

It’s been a long time since I last visited Washington’s FREE museums, so it’s nice to see them again with fresh eyes.  After leaving the Hirshhorn, I wander for a bit around the National Mall, huddled against the cloudy and blustery day.  Tomorrow, snow, sleet and freezing rain are forecast.  It’ll be a good day to stay indoors. 🙂

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13 thoughts on “an afternoon at the hirshhorn museum & sculpture garden

  1. Sounds like too much destruction even to illustrate a point! Love the bottle spiral though. And the sculpture garden. The Burgers of Calais must either be visiting, or is a reproduction, for I am pretty sure I have seen it at the Rodin museum in Paris.

    1. Madhu, I have wondered about this same thing, about Rodin’s “reproductions,” because I found the Helmet Maker’s Beautiful Wife pictured at several museums online. So I looked up the Burghers of Calais, and here’s what I found on Wikipedia:

      Under French law no more than twelve casts of works of Rodin may be made.

      The first cast of the group of six figures, cast in 1895 still stands in Calais. Other original casts stand at:

      1. Glyptoteket in Copenhagen, cast 1903.
      2. the Royal Museum in Mariemont, Belgium, cast 1905.
      3. Victoria Tower Gardens in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament in London, cast 1908, moved to London in 1915.
      4. the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, cast 1925 and installed in 1929.
      5. the gardens of the Musée Rodin in Paris, cast 1926 and given to the museum in 1955.
      6. Kunstmuseum in Basel, cast 1943 and installed in 1948.
      7. the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., cast 1943 and installed in 1966.
      8. the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, cast 1953 and installed in 1959.[7]
      9. the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, cast 1968.
      10. the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, cast 1985 and installed in 1989.[8]
      11. PLATEAU (formerly the Rodin Gallery[9]) in Seoul.[10] This is the 12th and final cast in the edition, cast 1995.

  2. Not my kind of thing, Cathy, but you’ve taken some excellent shots. (I like that bottle creation too 🙂 ) I’m curious about the Helmet Maker’s Wife so off to see that post next.

    1. It wasn’t my kind of thing, either, Jo. Very bizarre. But in my search for the helmet maker’s wife, I came to it accidentally, so I thought I may as well post about it. I tend to gravitate to things of beauty, not destructive, ugly things. 🙂

    1. I didn’t see the bottle sculpture at Belem! How did I miss that? I don’t really care for this destructive art either, but I guess it does say something about humanity’s destructive capabilities. 🙂

  3. It is urgent I know what the film was entitled in which the heads explode off their bodies for an essay I’m writing, can’t seem to find it elsewhere.

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