Jill Biden chairs groundbreaking evening for Hirshhorn Museum’s controversial sculpture garden redesign

Jill Biden chairs groundbreaking evening for Hirshhorn Museum’s controversial sculpture garden redesign
Jill Biden chairs groundbreaking evening for Hirshhorn Museum’s controversial sculpture garden redesign

Nothing drives a groundbreaking ceremony in Washington, D.C. like a go-go band, especially a band proficient in the city’s local musical genre that manages to nominate Grammy-winning Laurie Anderson, U.S. First Lady Jill Biden and “my man Jeff Koons” in song.

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden held a groundbreaking party on Wednesday (November 16) for its controversial sculpture garden renovation that combined DC’s high-end offerings (jazz-funk go-go music and First Lady Jill Biden) with international art stars (Anderson, Koons and Adam Pendleton). While architect Hiroshi Sugimoto admitted his design for the project had been controversial and at one point looked dead in the water of the reflecting pool, the mood was celebratory, with sparkling wine on offer to every guest who passed through the metal detectors, even though it was November and barely noon.

Every guest on the stage received a shootout from The Jogo Project , the group that offers background music in the garden. On the podium, speaker after speaker stressed the need for the nearly 50-year-old garden to serve as a performance venue.

“We see how the most important artists of our time work today in all mediums and explore technology and innovation in all their forms, from sculpture and video to sound and performance,” said Hirshhorn’s manager, Melissa Chiu. Hence, she added, “our need to evolve this garden for its next chapter”.

Smithsonian secretary Lonnie Bunch offered more egalitarian reasons for the evolution of an underutilized “light fixture on the mall.” The aim, he said, “is to transform this garden into a space that better accommodates a wider audience and certain performances, in essence, to make the Hirshhorn more accessible to the millions of people who walk past it on the National Mall”.

From left to right: Stephanie Ruhle, MSNBC host; artist Jeff Koons, Dan Sallick, Chairman of the Board of Hirshhorn; Steve Case, Chairman of the Board of the Smithsonian; Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; first lady Jill Biden; Smithsonian secretary Lonnie Bunch; Hiroshi Sugimoto, artist and architect of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden revitalization, artists Adam Pendleton and Laurie Anderson during the groundbreaking Nov. 16 at the National Mall Courtesy of the Hirshhorn. Photo by Tony Powell

According to pre-pandemic figures from the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn Garden typically attracts just 150,000 visitors a year, while 3.2 million people stop by the National Air and Space Museum next door.

In spring 2023, the garden will close for what it expected to be a two-year “revitalization” project that will replace the modernist sunken garden with three distinct areas, divided by new stacked stone walls, for a collection of approximately 30 pieces of modern and contemporary sculpture, period and performance art, large-scale commissions.

Sugimoto, the Japanese photographer, artist and architect, served as designer for the project, which had drawn criticism from groups like the Cultural Landscapes Foundation and others who wanted Gordon Bunshaft’s original design, revised by Lester Collins, to be preserved. Other critics have sat on the National Capital Planning Commission, where a representative of the Federal General Services Administration compared Sugimoto’s stacked stone mockup images to something “that just smells like Olive Garden.” [the chain restaurant] and that’s not a good look on anyone”.

The opposition extended the design and approval process by two years, a delay which Sugimoto resolved.

“I was amazed by the backlash against my vision,” Sugimoto told a crowd that responded with nervous laughter. “There were a few times I thought this project was dead, however, Melissa [Chiu] encouraged me to move on, and she was right. Now, I’m standing here at the dedication ceremony.

In a statement Wednesday, Cultural Landscapes Foundation founder Charles Birnbaum said that despite some revisions, Sugimoto’s plan “unnecessarily sacrificed” the original “limited, useful and unifying palette of materials” that was adopted by Collins and Bunshaft in this rare modernist icon from the National Mall”. .

The day’s keynote speaker, however, did what her husband often talks about: uniting America, or at least uniting the few hundred guests in attendance to agree on the value of contemporary art. Biden, who still teaches English at a suburban community college, shared a vivid account of his recent trip to see the Alex Katz retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The visit followed a series of “midterm campaigns” in New Hampshire, she said. The first lady’s day ended in New York. “It had already been a very long day,” she said. “But I didn’t feel quite ready to go to my hotel. I needed something more than rest.

So she went to the Guggenheim. “Walking through his works, I felt myself exhaling,” Biden said. “I stopped thinking about the politics of tomorrow and the speeches I was going to give and the homework I still had to mark for this other job. And instead, I found myself chilled by the ray of blue around me, warmed by the sunny yellow walls, lost in conversation with every pastel person looking at me from the canvas.

“I was nowhere but present,” Biden said. “In a world that asks us to sprint from moment to moment, from encounter to encounter, art stops us in our tracks. It feeds our spirit when we are hungry for something more. It shows the outlines of our joys and sorrows, so we know we are not alone.

She then invoked the words of Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson and one of the original champions of the Hirshhorn when it opened in 1974. Biden said the current project would open the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden “in a more accessible way”. ” so that it becomes a place where Washingtonians and visitors to the nation’s capital can have transformative experiences like she recently did at the Guggenheim.

“Why don’t you visit this garden just for a moment?” Biden said. “Let us stop for a moment and contemplate what lies beyond the limits of our imagination.”

For Chiu, the groundbreaking ceremony brought a sense of closure more than a sense of a new beginning. After mingling with donors, arts administrators and diplomats for an hour as the go-go band played, she stopped on her way up the ramp to the museum. “It was a fantastic end to the design process,” she said.

As the garden project finally kicks off, his museum is already planning its next building project, an ambitious redesign of its distinctive doughnut-shaped building and outdoor plaza.

. Jill Biden chairs a revolutionary party for controversial revamp garden sculptures museum Hirshhorn

. Jill Biden chairs groundbreaking evening Hirshhorn Museums controversial sculpture garden redesign

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