The Hirshhorn Museum’s 50th anniversary celebrates the evolution of art – cialisdfr
The Hirshhorn Museum’s 50th anniversary celebrates the evolution of art
The Hirshhorn Museum’s 50th anniversary celebrates the evolution of art

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Revolutions: Art from the Hirshhorn Collection, 1860–1960 showcases the beauty and breadth of artworks, highlights the evolution of arts and culture, and conveys artistic narratives that have worked to empower, reveal truths, and encourage of the change.

Installation view of Amoako Boafo and John Singer Sargent’s ‘Cobalt Blue Dress’ (2020), ‘Mrs. Kate A. Moore” (1884), in “Revolutions: Art from the Hirshhorn Collection, 1860-1960” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. (Courtesy of Rob Blunt, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden)

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden opened 50 years ago with 6,000 items from the collection of Joseph Hirshhorn, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. In a 1975 interview published by Creative Arts Television, Hirschhorn described his collecting practice between 1950-1969 as almost daily, spending about $1 million a year.

“The Hirshhorn opened in 1974 as a museum of modern art,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “It has since evolved into a modern and contemporary museum, largely because of Joseph H. Hirschhorn’s vision that his founding gift should meet the needs of a national museum dedicated to the art of our time.”

In “Revolutions” Hirschhorn’s manhood is on full display. The exhibition presents 270 works by 126 artists, including Reginald Marsh, Joan Mitchell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Jacob Lawrence, Thomas Eakins, Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder and others.

“‘Revolutions’ reminds us that we are connected to an art-historical continuum through engagement with artists, artworks and ideas—in person and virtually,” Chiu explained.

Organized chronologically, the sprawling layout of “Revolutions” reflects the bleeding of time from one movement in art history to the next. From large-scale portraits to cubism, abstract expressionism and more, the exhibition highlights artistic production as a result of social, political and economic change.

For example, Aftershock explores how artists responded to World War II. Upon entering this section, viewers are greeted by Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait V (1953), an image in which the human form has become less recognizable, the color palette is dark, and the tone is ominous. This journey through the past also proves to disrupt our understanding of time.

Within each thematic group, works by contemporary artists such as Flora Juhnovich and Rashid Johnson flow in to demonstrate the continuity of modernist impressions.

Conversations arise when O’Keeffe’s Goat’s Horn with Red (1945) lives next to Loi Hollowell’s Wheel of Tits (2019) and when Amoako Boafo’s Cobalt Blue Dress (2020) sits between paintings by John Singer Sargent and Thomas Eakins, famous figures in American art.

Francis Bacon, Portrait Study V (1953) is included in Revolutions: Art from the Hirshhorn Collection, 1860-1960 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture. The exhibition runs until April 2025. (Courtesy of the Francis Bacon Estate, DACS, London, ARS, New York)

This is not the first time that contemporary works have been in conversation with the past, but the dialogue here is more than a discussion, it is also a statement.

As the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the inclusion of contemporary artists is a bold move that asserts authority over who is and remains relevant and demonstrates how the Hirshhorn has injected diversity into a foundational collection that has been predominantly white and male.

In an inspiring variety, Hirshhorn highlights lesser-known stories and relationships such as Hector Hippolytus, a Caribbean artist with loose ties to Surrealism. Hyppolite’s inclusion offers a starting point that diverges beyond Paris, Andre Breton, and the mainstream understanding of the Surrealist movement, creating space for deeper engagement.

There are many ways that co-curators Marina Isgro and Betsy Johnson could have organized this exhibition. It would be easy to recreate the museum’s inaugural show with the greatest hits in art history on parade. And while some notoriety is inevitable given the breadth of the Hirshhorn’s collection, Isgro and Johnson are using the museum’s 50th anniversary as a visual manifesto.

The openness of the design encourages the audience to perceive the artistic intervention as a constant non-linear exchange. In “Revolutions,” viewers witness the past, anticipating the future as it informs contemporary moments.

Some discussions are straightforward, while others are layered and subtle. It’s fascinating, comprehensive, and certainly worth a second visit.

The “Revolutions Hirshhorn Collection 1860 – 1960” will be on view until April 20, 2025.

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