If there is one quality that’s universal to human cultures, it’s art. From the cave paintings of Indonesia to the prehistoric art of Lascaux, France, this cultural expression is something that transcends time and distance. After all, the art at Lascaux and Sulawesi are separated by nearly 15,400 years and many thousands of miles–and yet, the humans of both areas wished to tell stories and leave a legacy for others to come.
We’ve come a long way from cave paintings, of course, but that quintessential human drive–to create, to express, and to leave something behind for future generations–remains strong today. A wonderful (and extremely underrated) stronghold of art and culture is the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which may be the best, most innovative museum that you’ve never heard of.
What is the Hirshhorn Museum?
Organizationally, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden falls under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution, the public group of research centers and museums funded and controlled by the federal government. For this reason, the Hirshhorn may be overshadowed by its more famous counterparts, such as the National Air and Space Museum or the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, but it is worth a visit nonetheless.
Because it’s so unique, it can be difficult to capture the essence of the Hirshhorn’s avant-garde design. The building itself is a beautifully-designed, cylindrical structure: at its heart is an open-air, centrally-located atrium and fountain. The building itself rests on four legs, elevating it above the surrounding ground and imbuing the space with an expansive, airy feeling.
Outside, the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden are collection of lush, green lawns dotted with abstract, quirky artwork. On a sunny day, the gardens are a delight, crowded with curious, playful children, couples strolling hand-in-hand, and young and old alike stopping to ponder the message, meaning, and significance of the art on display.
A Forward-thinking Institution
The commitment to excellence and user experience at the Hirshhorn is also interesting; personally, I believe this demonstrates a visionary, daring spirit and aesthetic that would also be at home in a place like Apple’s design lab or Tesla’s production floor. In this case, imagination and creativity are unleashed in service of the arts.
Witness “Infinity Mirrors,” a recent show by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Two years in the making, the Hirshhorn staff and leadership poured every ounce of their insight and effort into preparing for this prestigious exhibition. Centered around six mirror rooms and one “Obliteration Room,” each installation is an immersive, interactive experience; visitors adorned the “Obliteration Room” with multicolored polka dots, stepped gingerly through glowing, otherworldly pumpkins of mottled glass, and marveled at a surreal expanse of glowing lights, which mirrored stars, planets, and the vast, twinkling emptiness of outer space.
That the Hirshhorn can pull together such a technically demanding, visually stunning display is a sign of its , and a testament to the skill of its staffers, curators Mark Beasley and Stephane Aquin, and director Melissa Chiu. Even if there were minor visitor complaints (such as long lines), by and large, these issues were due to high demand and popular acclaim, rather than stemming from any missteps from the staff.
On a personal note…
To be honest, Melissa Chiu the main reason I agreed to join the board of the Hirshhorn Museum. We met during Melissa’s tenure at the Asia Society; at the time, I was a board member, and had the opportunity to work with her closely–as well as to experience her considerable skill first-hand. When she left to go the Hirshhorn, it was a loss for the Asia Society, but obviously a big win for the Hirshhorn.
About a year ago, during a chance encounter at the airport, Melissa convinced me to join the Hirshhorn. As you can imagine, it is not easy to refuse her; aside from her considerable talent and expertise, Melissa also gave me a bit of (very positive) peer pressure, reminding me that several very good friends (Stephanie Foster, Adam Metz and Hal Newman) were also on the Hirshhorn board. So it was an easy thing to agree to–and a great honor to be asked.
Today, it’s my pleasure and privilege to be named as a trustee of the Hirshhorn, and to sit on the board of this prestigious, wonderful organization. If anything, the presentation by Yayoi Kusama is only a sign of many wonderful things to come. I cannot wait for other collaborations, experiences, and exhibits that are on the horizon.