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Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, 1972-ongoing

view Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, 1972-ongoing digital asset number 1
Donor:
Hirshhorn, Joseph H
Art critic:
Forgey, Benjamin
Landscape architect:
Collins, Lester -1993
Urban, James
First director and curator:
Lerner, Abram
Architect:
Bunshaft, Gordon 1909-1990
Architect, original concept:
Owings, Nathaniel Alexander 1903-1984
Architectural firm:
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Physical description:
659 35mm slides (photographs), 6 photographic prints and digital images
Type:
Digital images
Slides (photographs)
Photographic prints
Negatives
Place:
United States of America, District of Columbia, Washington
District of Columbia
Washington
Date:
1969
1972-ongoing
Notes:
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, opened in October 1974. The grounds are west of 7th Street SW on the south side of the National Mall. The 2.7-acre museum and fountain plaza lie south of Jefferson Drive on the former site of the Army Medical Museum and Library (1887-1969). The 1.3-acre sculpture garden lies north of Jefferson Drive. The garden and plaza are two open-air galleries dedicated to showcasing modern sculptures, many of which had been collected and donated to the Smithsonian by the entrepreneur Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899-1981).
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was first conceived in 1966, when Mr. Hirshhorn donated more than 5,500 works of art to the Smithsonian. In particular, the idea for the sculpture garden came from by Nathaniel Owings of the international architecture and engineering firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of New York City. Firm partner Gordon Bunshaft carried out Owings' idea, proposing a two-acre sunken garden that would bisect the National Mall. The garden would be 7 feet below ground level with 3 foot high walls, creating a 10 foot deep enclave. A rectangular reflecting pool would dominate the space, surrounded by a pebble walkway. It was an austere Minimalist design with few plants.
The museum and sculpture garden's groundbreaking was in 1969, but Bunshaft's plan for the garden to extend across the Mall created much controversy, as it would interrupt the vista between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. Work on the sculpture garden was halted by Congress in January 1971. In February, Washington Star art critic Benjamin Fogey suggested turning the garden parallel to the Mall, and making the reflecting pool smaller. These suggestions were adopted, and construction resumed in July.
When the garden opened in 1974, it served as a neutral setting where the sculptures commanded much of the attention. It featured a center court 14 feet below ground level with a rectangular reflecting pool and two flanking terraces. Enclosed within high walls, it successfully reduced traffic noise. However, despite its sunken form, Bunshaft's Minimalist approach made for an uncomfortably exposed, bleak space. There was also no access for strollers or wheelchairs, and the pebble floor was difficult to walk on. In 1977, architect Lester Collins of the Innisfree Foundation redesigned the garden to improve physical access and make it a calming green space. Construction began in 1979 and the garden reopened in 1981. A pair of long ramps were installed, and the formerly harsh open area was now divided and bordered by lawns and plantings, and shaded by trees.
In 1991, landscape architect James Urban collaborated with Hirshhorn staff to renovate the museum's fountain plaza. Deteriorating concrete surfaces were replaced with granite, as had been called for in Bunshaft's original plan. A wheelchair entrance was added to provide access to the pathway that runs the perimeter of the plaza, and the adjacent Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Sculptures were installed in new areas of lawn and flowering trees in the plaza's four corners, and also amid small groves of honey locust trees on the plaza's east and west sides. The plaza reopened in 1993.
In 2007, the artist Yoko Ono presented a Japanese dogwood tree to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in conjunction with that year's Cherry Blossom Festival. This, along with nine other trees planted in Washington, D.C., made up part of her Wish Tree project. Visitors to these trees could write a wish on a paper tag and hang it on a branch. This is a custom associated with the Shinto temple gardens of Japan, where Ms. Ono grew up. While the nine other wishing trees were removed, the one in the sculpture garden remains as a permanent installation.
Plantings include weeping beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Pendula'), Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), Boston ivy (Pathenocissus tricuspidata), climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala), lily turf (Liriope muscari), southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), and crabapple (Malus).
Persons associated with the garden include: Joseph H. Hirshhorn (donor, 1966). Nathaniel Owings (architect, original concept, 1966). Gordon Bunshaft (architect, 1967-1974). Benjamin Forgey (art critic, 1971). Lester Collins (landscape architect, 1977-1981). Abram Lerner (first director and curator of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1974-1984). James Urban (landscape architect, 1991-1993).
Publications:
Garden has been featured in Carole Ottesen, A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2011), pp. 72-81
Topic:
Gardens
Local number:
SG006000
Data Source:
Archives of American Gardens

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