The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The Hirshhorn is one of the leading museums of contemporary art in America, comparable with New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim, and it's something no visitor interested in modern art should miss. It has an extensive collection of twentieth-century art, from a room full of Picassos to the latest controversial works by the likes of Britain's bad-boy artist Damian Hirst (the only one of his works on permanent display in the United States). Popular favorites include the Calder mobiles, Nam June Paik's video American flag made out of television screens, and the various icons from the 1960s Pop Art movement.

The sunken outdoor sculpture garden reveals a marvelous collection of important modern sculpture, from pivotal works by Rodin to unusual three-dimensional work by de Kooning.


The Hirshhorn is named after Latvian-born mining entrepreneur, philanthropist, and art collector Joseph Hirshhorn (1889–1981). He gave the Smithsonian more than 6,000 pieces (think of it!) of modern art, and these formed the nucleus of the museum's collection, which opened in 1974.

The museum itself is a work of art, echoing the spiraling interior design of New York's Guggenheim Museum so that each floor is a selfcontained circle around a courtyard with floor-to-ceiling windows that make use of natural light. Some have commented that the museum, designed by Gordon Bunshaft, looks like a giant doughnut or drum.

Lay of the Land

On the lobby level, you have the option to view a continuously shown twenty-minute film that discusses the art on display in the museum, as well as an overview of modern art and suggestions on how to experience the works. The lobby level also houses special exhibitions and the museum's gift store, which has a quirky collection of art knickknacks, as well as a good selection of books and posters. There is also a kid's corner with toys, puzzles, and project books.

The second floor has a series of galleries that present recent acquisitions and an impressive display of abstract expressionist works from the permanent collection, which might include Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross, and 1960s pop icons such as Claes Oldenburg's 7-UP and Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe's Lips.

The galleries on the third level concentrate on the work of individual artists. You'll see Alexander Calder's colorful mobiles, and the wildly expressionist painting of Willem de Kooning. The kids will like Nam June Paik's Video Flag, a seven-by-twelve-foot bank of seventy video monitors that takes the form of the American flag while flashing images of American politics and technological advances. Other stars of the collection are the post-1960 representational paintings of James Rosenquist, Alex Katz, Tom Wesselman, and Eric Fischl.

On the lower level there are galleries showing contemporary art from the collection and two small spaces that continuously show film and video. The Black Box Theater shows new video work and is a nice place to rest and cool off or warm up, depending on the season.

Sculptures are located in the interior galleries of the first three floors, overlooking the courtyard, and these galleries chronicle the spatial developments of the last century with works by Degas, Picasso, Giacometti, and Matisse. You'll find a rare wooden sculpture by Gauguin, as well as a clever piece by Man Ray, all of which culminates in the powerful Robert Arneson giant bust called General Nuke.

Circling the museum are a number of recent sculpture acquisitions. You can sit in a tree-lined area while eating self-service from the Full Circle Café, which is open from May until September.

Location and Hours

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is located on the Mall, accessible from the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station (Orange, Blue, Yellow, or Green Line). The museum is open from 10 A.M. to 5:30 P.M., and often later in the summer; the Plaza is open 7:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M.; the sculpture garden is open from 7:30 A.M. until dusk. Guided tours are available on weekdays at noon, and there's an additional tour at 2:30 P.M. on Sunday. Sculpture Garden tours are held weekdays from June 1 to September 30 at 10:30 A.M., with a Sunday tour at 12:15 added.

  1. Home
  2. Family Guide to Washington DC
  3. Introduction to the Smithsonian
  4. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Visit other sites: