The Hirshhorn Museum is one of our favorite Smithsonians. Why? Well, it makes modern & contemporary art not only approachable, but dynamic and interesting.
Located in a brutalist circular building with a hollow courtyard in the middle, complete with a large fountain and a Dolcezza pop-up, this building commands attention.
The Hirshhorn is not as big as some of the other museums in the mall, but it isn’t as busy either (okay, not counting the Infinity Mirrors exhibition from a few months ago). There are 4 floors, each with exhibitions.
The mezzanine level has some seating, the visitor front desk, and usually 1-2 rotating small or interactive exhibitions. From this floor, you can travel down to the gift shop, bathroom, and one small gallery or to the second and third floors.
The second floor holds much of the more faster rotating or on-loan exhibitions. This is where big-name Hirshhorn “wins” are found – like Infinity Mirrors and Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition. Usually, these taken up the entire interior loop but sometimes there are 1-2 smaller galleries. Additionally on this floor, on the outer loop that overlooks the courtyard, you can find artwork on the walls – usually something actually painted onto the walls, which is interesting. They also sometimes place smaller acquisitions on this floor. This floor also highlights the infamous giant naked man statue, which is an Untitled piece by Ron Mueck.
The third floor holds the main collection – most of these acquisitions have been in the museum a long time, with occasional switching out. However, this floor is typically the least changed out of all three.
Unlike the other floors which have exhibitions that highlight a single artist, time period, or other category, this main collection flows seemingly without any set form.
Paintings, statues, installations, and video all mingle together on this floor and range in art type, style, date, and intent. Some pieces have long artist-written descriptions of the pieces, others are simply titled and lack explanation.
We enjoy the Hirshhorn’s lack of definition. It’s part of what makes this museum so fun. You could easily spend an hour there, or four, and still get the full experience.
Unlike other museums, where exhibitions are highly specific and targeted, you could simply head to the third floor of the Hirshhorn and get a good idea of what is happening in modern art, past and present.