“Revolutions: Art from the Hirshhorn Collection, 1860–1960” Inaugurates the 50th Anniversary of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Exhibition of 270 Artworks Charts the Development of the National Collection
February 21, 2024
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Image of two paintings side by side, woman on left wears a black dress in dark room and woman on right wears blue dress.

Left: John Singer Sargent, “Mrs. Kate A. Moore,” 1884. Oil on canvas; 71 5/8 x 45 3/4 in. (181.9 x 116.2 cm). Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972 (72.257). Photo: Lee Stalsworth.

Right: Amoako Boafo, “Cobalt Blue Dress,” 2020. Oil on canvas; 78 3/8 x 60 1/2 in. (199.1 x 153.7 cm). Gift of Sandra and Howard Hoffen, 2022 (2022.016). Photo: Rob Blunt.

To inaugurate its 50th anniversary season, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden presents “Revolutions: Art from the Hirshhorn Collection, 1860–1960,” a major survey of artwork made during a transformative period characterized by developments in science and philosophy and ever-increasing mechanization.

“Revolutions” captures shifting cultural landscapes through the largely chronological presentation of 270 artworks by 126 artists in the museum’s permanent collection—including Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet, Lee Krasner, Wifredo Lam, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock—made during these turbulent and energetic years. The exhibition includes contemporary work by 19 artists, including Torkwase Dyson, Rashid Johnson, Annette Lemieux, Dyani White Hawk and Flora Yukhnovich, whose practices demonstrate how many of the revolutionary ideas and approaches that arose during these 100 years remain influential. Organized by Hirshhorn Associate Curator Marina Isgro and Assistant Curator Betsy Johnson, “Revolutions” will fill the museum’s second-floor outer-circle galleries from March 22, 2024, to April 20, 2025. 

“The Hirshhorn opened in 1974 as a modern art museum,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “It has since become a modern and contemporary museum, largely because of Joseph H. Hirshhorn’s vision that his foundational gift should meet the needs of a national museum dedicated to the art of our time. ‘Revolutions’ reminds us that we are connected to an art-historical continuum through engagement with artists, artwork and ideas—in person and virtually.” 

“Revolutions” spotlights the speed with which new genres and artistic approaches accelerated the arc of modernism and the ascendancy of abstraction, notably through the work of artists interested in engaging the mind as well as the eye. An industrialist, collector and philanthropist, Hirshhorn donated nearly 6,000 works—including a significant number of sculptures—in anticipation of the museum’s opening Oct. 4, 1974, and 6,400 more upon his death in 1981. Together these gifts constitute one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. Today, the Hirshhorn collection comprises more than 13,130 artworks. 

“Revolutions” takes a primarily chronological approach to historical movements, pausing occasionally to introduce contemporary works that serve as throughlines. The exhibition opens, for example, with “Modern Beginnings,” an examination of large-scale portraiture (a hallmark of social standing) that twins “Mrs. Kate A. Moore” (1884) by John Singer Sargent, part of Hirshhorn’s initial gift, with Amoako Boafo’s “Cobalt Blue Dress” (2020), a recent acquisition. In the same section, Henri Matisse’s series “Heads of Jeannette,” five sculptures made between 1910 and 1913, traces a progression from representation to abstraction, indicating how rapidly 20th-century artists adopted abstract approaches. 

In subsequent galleries, sections such as “Abstraction and Construction” and “Vital Forms” are devoted to work by futurists, including four sculptures by Giacomo Balla, as well as to cubist works by artists including Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and Yun Gee. Artistic responses to the ferocity of World War I’s nationalism and modern warfare are highlighted by Marsden Hartley’s “Painting No. 47, Berlin” (1914–1915) and Childe Hassam’s “The Union Jack, New York, April Morning” (1918). The installation also acknowledges how World War II tore communities apart, exiling significant artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Hans Hofmann, Wifredo Lam and Piet Mondrian while accelerating the exchange of ideas between the likes of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. 

The speed with which artistic movements developed is emphasized by the scope of work on view: George Wesley Bellows’ and Edward Hopper’s realist paintings, Alexandra Exter’s angular constructivist puppets, biomorphic abstractions by Jean Arp and Arshile Gorky, and lyrical landscapes by O’Keeffe and Horace Pippin, all on view were created within 25 years of each other. 

The exhibition also emphasizes the intensity that Joseph Hirshhorn brought to collecting. “Revolutions” contains six significant artworks by Willem de Kooning, eight by Alberto Giacometti, nine by David Smith and nine by Jean Dubuffet—all founding gifts. Hirshhorn’s interest in Haitian painters is exemplified in pieces by Castera Bazile, Rigaud Benoit and Hector Hyppolite, whose lyrical paintings draw upon regional mysticism and resonated with the interests of the European Surrealists. 

Concluding galleries consider the shift of the center of the art world from Europe to New York and the rise of Abstract Expressionism, teasing out strands of global artistic thought throughout. “Aftershocks” is dedicated to evidence of fractured artistic communities in the wake of World War II. “Gestures and Myths” considers Abstract Expressionism in artworks by, among others, Willem de Kooning, Janet Sobel, and Jackson Pollock that exemplify both male and female artists’ appetite for vigorous explorations of the unconscious mind during this period. Large-scale paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell demonstrate the era’s burgeoning confidence. Barnett Newman’s and Mark Rothko’s works, in the same galleries, evoke sensations of wonder with fields of saturated colors. The concluding section, “New Realities,” features artists who introduced found and commonplace materials into their painting, such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as others who introduced new vocabularies. Artists associated with the Japanese avant-garde, for example, such as Natsuyuki Nakanishi, moved between object-based work and performance, lending their practice an immediacy that future generations would explore. 

Designed by Paris-based exhibition specialists Studio Adrien Gardère, “Revolutions” will be accompanied by free public programs, including an artist talk with Dyson and Yukhnovich March 22, curator tours April 26 and Oct. 18 and a 50th birthday celebration Oct. 4. The accompanying 398-page catalog, “Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: The Collection” is enhanced by 50 Hirshhorn Eye videos.

Artists with work on view in “Revolutions” include:

Berenice Abbott
Anni Albers
Josef Albers
Dacid Alekhuogie
Alexander Archipenko
Milton Avery
Francis Bacon
Daniel Vladimir Baranoff-
Castera Bazile 
Thomas Hart Benton 
Dawoud Bey 
Charles Biederman 
Oscar Bluemner 
Constantin Brancusi 
Joan Brown 
Alexander Calder 
Emily Carr 
Mary Cassatt 
William Merritt Chase
Carlotta Corpron 
Joseph Cornell 
Ralston Crawford 
Abraham Cruzvillegas 
Stuart Davis 
Dorothy Dehner 
Robert Delaunay 
Sonia Delaunay 
Richard Diebenkorn 
Burgoyne Diller 
Arthur G. Dove 
Torkwase Dyson

Thomas Eakins 
Max Ernst 
Alexandra Exter 
Helen Frankenthaler 
Adolph Gottlieb 
George Grosz 
Grace Hartigan 
Robert Henri 
Auguste Herbin 
Loie Hollowell 
Winslow Homer 
Wassily Kandinsky 
Barbara Kasten 
Franz Kline 
Oskar Kokoschka 
Käthe Kollwitz 
Yasuo Kuniyoshi 
Wifredo Lam 
Jacob Lawrence 
Nadia Khodossievitch Léger 
Morris Louis 
Rick Lowe 
Stanton Macdonald-Wright 
Reginald Marsh 
André Masson 
Sally Mann 
Joan Miró 
Joan Mitchell 
László Moholy-Nagy 
Grandma Moses
Gabriele Münter 

Natsuyuki Nakanishi 
Alice Neel 
Aliza Nisenbaum 
Kenneth Noland 
Georgia O’Keeffe 
Catherine Opie 
Nicolas Party 
Paul Pfeiffer 
Ann Pibal 
Nathaniel Mary Quinn 
Man Ray 
Larry Rivers 
Auguste Rodin 
Kay Sage 
Gino Severini 
Ben Shahn 
John Sloan 
Leon Polk Smith 
Janet Sobel 
Joseph Stella 
Clyfford Still 
Rufino Tamayo 
Pavel Tchelitchew 
Alma Thomas 
Joaquín Torres-García 
Cy Twombly 
Edouard Vuillard 
Tsuruko Yamazaki 
Zao Wou-Ki 

Subsequent 50th anniversary exhibitions will explore the Hirshhorn collection from 1960 to the present.

“Revolutions: Art from the Hirshhorn Collection, 1860–1960” is supported by a grant from The Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. Major support was provided by Veronique and Marshall Parke and the John and Barbara Vogelstein Foundation. Additional funding was provided by the Hirshhorn International Council and Hirshhorn Collectors’ Council.

About the Hirshhorn Collection 

The Hirshhorn’s permanent collection includes leading artists from the late 19th century to the present day and comprises paintings, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media installations, works on paper and new-media works. The Hirshhorn has one of the most comprehensive collections of modern sculpture in the world, with many examples on view indoors and in the Sculpture Garden.

An active global acquisitions program continually adds work to the Hirshhorn collection in all media, with an emphasis on new work and the work of artists exhibiting at and collaborating with the museum. Artists such as Ai Weiwei, Mark Bradford, David Hammons, Mona Hatoum, Robert Irwin, Yoko Ono, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Susan Philipsz, Adrian Piper, Gerhard Richter, Doris Salcedo and Rachel Whiteread are represented by major works. Global modernism is also a collecting focus, and recent additions include works by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Natsuyuki Nakanishi and Park Seo-bo. African American artists recently entering the collection include Charles Gaines, Arthur Jafa, Jennie C. Jones, Senga Nengudi, Sondra Perry and Henry Taylor. About the Hirshhorn 

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar programs on the art of our time—free to all. The Hirshhorn Museum is open daily, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. (except Dec. 25). For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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Solo Medios 

Kate Gibbs