The Hirshhorn Museum is the Smithsonian's museum of modern and contemporary art comprised of approximately 11,500 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, photographs, collages, and decorative art objects. The museum focuses on collections of twentieth century art, mostly from works created during the last 30 years. The collection includes arts of traditional historical themes addressing emotion, abstraction, politics, process, religion, and economics. Key international artists are represented from Picasso and Giacometti to de Kooning and Warhol.
Admission is free.
History and Background
Of all the impressive structures on the National Mall, The Hirshhorn's circular building is a must-see (it's nicknamed "The Brutalist donut", since this is one of the most famous examples Brutalist era). The drum-shaped Hirshhorn Museum is designed by award-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft as “a large piece of functional sculpture” according to the museum's website. Visitors traverse the curved galleries, with an entire wall of windows looking out into the building's interior courtyard with a fountain.
The museum opened in 1974, fulfilling Congress's ambition to create a museum of contemporary art as a companion to the National Gallery of Art. Financier, philanthropist, and famed collector Joseph Hirshhorn gifted nearly 6,000 works of artwork from his personal museum to establish the museum. Under the current leadership of Hirshhorn Museum director of Melissa Chiu, the museum regularly stages buzzy events and acclaimed exhibits, drawing record crowds. The Hirshhorn is planning to redesign its sculpture garden, working with architect/artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, who recently redesigned the museum's ground floor.
What to See
Before you start exploring the museum, head downstairs to check out artist Barbara Kruger's "Belief + Doubt" installation, which takes over the lower level and museum store area. The walls, floor, and even escalators are wrapped in shades of black and white and red with open-ended questions.
Upstairs in the galleries, there's always a fascinating new exhibition on view. Must-see pieces from the permanent collections include Ron Mueck's larger-than-life Untitled (Big Man) and Damien Hirst's structure The Asthmatic Escaped II.
Don't miss exploring outside the museum in its Sculpture Garden, with more than 60 different works of art on view in a gorgeous setting. One that's impossible to miss is Jimmie Durham's sculpture depicting a Mercedes destroyed by an asteroid, along with dot-obsessed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's giant "Pumpkin" sculpture. The Sculpture Garden is also home to a "Wish Tree" by Yoko Ono and a sculpture by Auguste Rodin.
The museum often offers special programs including tours, talks, lectures, films and workshops, and family events.Time your visit to take advantage of free tours: meet a Gallery Guide in the lobby for a Highlights Tour. The tour is offered daily at 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm. and lasts about 45 minutes to an hour.
The Museum Shop offers a selection of books, postcards, posters on modern and contemporary art and other gift items. Looking for a snack or just a place on the National Mall to take a break from all that culture? The new coffee bar Dolcezza Coffee & Gelato at Hirshhorn is located on the ground floor and is the only locally owned café on the National Mall.
Tips for Visiting
Independence Avenue at Seventh Street SW on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The closest Metro stations are Smithsonian and L’Enfant Plaza
Museum and Sculpture Garden Hours:
The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., except for on Christmas Day. The Plaza is open from 7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. The Sculpture Garden is open from 7:30 a.m. to dusk.
What to Do Nearby
Since this museum is located on the National Mall, there are so many attractions nearby to see as well. Walk over to the adjacent National Air and Space Museum, then tackle other Smithsonian museums like National Museum of African Art, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Museum of the American Indian. Art fans will also need to schedule time to see the amazing masterworks at the National Gallery of Art, which could take up an entire day.
Other worthy nearby attractions include the historic Smithsonian Castle and the beautiful plants and flowers at the U.S. Botanic Garden, near the U.S. Capitol Building. Here's a guide to exploring all the attractions of the National Mall.