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 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).
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.
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.
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.
I wander outside to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, which features works by artists including Auguste Rodin, David Smith, Alexander Calder, Jeff Koons and others.
I circle the bunker-like museum one last time and find a couple of other sculptures on the grounds.
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. 🙂