The exterior of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s iconic cylindrical building will be the site of internationally renowned Swiss artist Nicolas Party’s newest artwork, debuting Sept. 18. “Draw the Curtain” (2021) will wrap 360 degrees around the temporary scaffolding that encases the museum building and will span a circumference of 829 feet, becoming the artist’s largest work to date. An original pastel painting digitally collaged and printed onto scrim, the site-specific commission will transform the Hirshhorn’s façade into a monumental canvas that stands out against the landscape of predominantly neo-classical buildings on the National Mall. The work will be on view through spring 2022 while the building’s envelope undergoes critical repairs.
“We are in the wake of a year that has challenged us to discover new potential in the outdoors as spaces for joy and connection,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “I am excited to welcome Nicolas Party back to the Hirshhorn to this time use the exterior of the building as his canvas. ‘Draw the Curtain’ will activate the museum building to engage with outdoor viewers and the surrounding National Mall in an entirely new way.”
“Draw the Curtain” will comprise several anonymous faces partially hidden by draped curtains, gazing directly at the viewer no matter where they are viewing from around the building. Known for his unique visual language that simultaneously celebrates and challenges conventions of representational painting, Party steeps this work in art historical technique and symbolism. The featured portraits, painted in black and white, are based on classical sculpture, while the curtains, painted in shades of green, blue, yellow and red, are sampled mostly from 17th-century Dutch paintings. Painted in the tradition of “trompe l’oeil,” the work addresses themes of dupery and illusion and conjures a scenographic set. It invites passersby to peek backstage behind the “curtain” on the National Mall and examine both the collections housed within the Smithsonian and the contents of the distinctive government buildings dotting the surrounding landscape. “Draw the Curtain” reminds the viewer of the opacity of these spaces, while inviting them to consider what lies behind the façades of the buildings in the nation’s capital.
“Draw the Curtain” will mark the second time Party’s artwork has been shown in Washington, D.C.; the Hirshhorn hosted the artist’s Washington debut in 2017 with his solo exhibition “sunrise, sunset,” a wall mural that he painted directly onto the museum’s gallery walls. The piece was inspired in part by President Barack Obama’s remark that “the sun will rise in the morning,” in response to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “Draw the Curtain” completes Party’s progression from the interior of the Hirshhorn to the exterior of its building.
This project adds to the Hirshhorn’s rich history of commissioning artists to engage with its building, which was created as a “functional sculpture” by architect Gordon Bunshaft. The Hirshhorn presented Doug Aitken’s “SONG 1” in 2012, the first-ever work of 360-degree cinema to be presented in a continuous cylindrical format. More recently, in 2017, architect/artist Hiroshi Sugimoto redesigned the museum lobby to be a more welcoming space, and his current design for a revitalized sculpture garden for the Hirshhorn aims to do the same.
About the Artist
Born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1980, Party is a figurative painter who has achieved critical admiration for his familiar yet unsettling landscapes, portraits and still lifes that simultaneously celebrate and challenge conventions of representational painting. His works are primarily created in soft pastel, an idiosyncratic choice of medium in the 21st century, and one that allows for exceptional degrees of intensity and fluidity in his depictions of objects both natural and manmade. Transforming these objects into abstracted, biomorphic shapes, Party suggests deeper connections and meanings. His unique visual language has coalesced in a universe of fantastical characters and motifs where perspective is heightened and skewed to uncanny effect.
In addition to paintings, Party creates public murals, pietra dura (a stone-inlay technique), ceramics, installation works and sculptures, including painted busts and body parts that allude to the famous fragments of ancient Greece and Rome. His brightly colored androgynous figures vary in scale from the handheld to the monumental and are displayed on tromp l’oeil marble plinths of differing heights that upend conventional perspective. Party’s early interest in graffiti and murals—his projects in this arena have included major commissions for the Dallas Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles—has led to a particular approach to the installation and presentation of his work. He routinely deploys color and makes architectural interventions in exhibition spaces in order to construct enveloping experiences for the viewer.
Party’s childhood in Switzerland imprinted upon him an early fascination with landscape and the natural world, and the influence of his native country places him firmly within the trajectory of central European landscape painting. Points of reference in his work include celebrated 19th-century Swiss artists Félix Vallotton, Ferdinand Hodler and Hans Emmenegger. Within his works is a 21st-century synthesis of the sorts of impulses and ideas that fueled the Renaissance and late 19th- and early 20th-century figurative painting, the compositional strategies of Rosalba Carriera and Rachel Ruysch, and the visions of such self-taught artists as Louis Eilshemius and Milton Avery.
Based in New York, Party studied at the Lausanne School of Art in Switzerland before receiving his Master of Fine Arts from Glasgow School of Art in Scotland.
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 American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all. The museum will be open Wednesday to Sunday 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. beginning Friday, Aug. 20. Its outdoor sculpture garden is open daily 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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