June 5, 2013
Two weeks ago, the Hirshhorn Museum’s Board of Trustees met to make a recommendation for the fate of the Seasonal Inflatable Structure project (popularly known as the “bubble”), a massive balloon to serve as a space for lectures, conferences and temporary think tanks on art and culture. Board members were divided over the financial viability of the project.
Today, the Smithsonian Institution announced that the project will not go forward due to cost concerns. In an email sent to Smithsonian employees, Richard Kurin, the Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, said simply that “‘The Bubble,’ a proposed venue at the Hirshhorn to be used for two months each year for programming devoted to arts and culture, will not move forward due to financial uncertainties.”
According to a press release, the decision was made by Kurin and Secretary Wayne Clough after consulting with the Smithsonian Board of Regents, the Hirshhorn’s Board of Trustees, museum staff, art museum directors, budget officers and others. “Without the prospect of needed funding, we cannot undertake this project at the same time we are facing significant financial challenges that affect the entire Smithsonian,” Clough said.
The bubble, which had been designed by the New York-based firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, was envisioned as an architecturally daring addition to the museum that would help establish it as a forum for world-class arts events and conferences. But the cost of building and installing the structure was estimated to be $12.5 million, with only $7.8 million in funds raised or pledged thus far. Additionally, maintaining and inflating the bubble would cost $1 million annually.
“Without the full support of the museum’s board and the funding in place for the fabrication and a viable plan for the operation of the Bubble, we believe it is irresponsible to go forward,” Kurin said in the press release. “Architects, artists and Smithsonian staff have praised the bold vision of a temporary bubble-shaped structure on the Mall, but after four years of planning and fundraising, there was not enough funding to construct the Bubble and, more importantly, to sustain programming for years to come.”
May 23, 2013
In 2009, the Hirshhorn Museum announced plans for a dramatic, glowing balloon that would emerge out of the center of the circular building when inflated seasonally. The “Bubble,” as it came to be called, was conceived by the Hirshhorn’s director, Richard Koshalek, as an architecturally ambitious addition to the museum that would serve as a space for meetings, lectures and temporary think tanks about the arts and culture. But recently, cost projections for the Bubble, officially known as the Seasonal Inflatable Structure, had been reported to be unsustainable.
The fate of the project lay in the balance today as the museum’s board of trustees met to determine if the project would go forward. But at the meeting’s conclusion, Smithsonian Institution officials stated that the board had “failed to reach a consensus.” A final decision will be announced next month.
The museum’s director also announced his resignation to the board and to the museum staff to become effective at the end of the year.
Koshalek came to the Smithsonian in 2009 from the Art Center of College and Design in Pasadena, California with many bold ideas. Koshalek saw the Bubble design as a seasonal venue that would “house pop-up think tanks about the arts around the world,” according to architecture critic Joseph Giovannini in the May issue of Smithsonian magazine.
In an announcement to staff, Richard Kurin, the Institution’s undersecretary for history, arts and culture, said that Koshalek had brought “tremendous energy and creativity to the Hirshhorn.”
The New York-based firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro conceived the blue, translucent structure as an “off kilter dome, jaunty as a beret,” wrote Giovannini, who also described the project as daring and innovative. But costs of the structure and its installation are estimated at $12.5 million, with only $7.8 million raised or committed to date. In addition, Smithsonian officials report that about $1 million would be required to maintain the project, covering the installation, de-installation and storage.
February 4, 2013
Tuesday, February 5: Faster-than-Light Particles
Line anything up against a beam of light in a race and the beam’s always going to win. Light is the fastest thing there is, and much of our modern understanding of the universe is based on this barrier. But what if in fact there is some undetectable thing that is speedier? A tachyon is a hypothetical particle that always moves faster than light. Proposed in the 1960s, the possible existence of this elusive particle has enormous implications for science and the way we view the fabric of our reality. George Mason University professor of physics and astronomy Robert Ehrlich discusses the evidence for the tachyon this evening, and why it would turn our world upside down if discovered. $25 general admission, $18 member, $16 senior member. 6:45 p.m. Ripley Center.
Wednesday, February 6: Up Close from Afar: Photographic Records of the Middle East
What images come to mind when we think of the Middle East? According to artist Jananne Al-Ani, Americans tend to associate the region with barren land, which suggests low populations and little history or culture. Al-Ani’s exhibit in the Sackler Gallery, “Shadow Sites,” explores how Western media’s depictions of the Middle East’s landscapes have enforced the 19th-century stereotype of the Arab in the desert. In a talk this evening, curators Mitra Abbaspour and Carol Huh use Al-Ani’s work to probe this issue of media and archival documents’ effects on our current perceptions of this often-misunderstood region. Free. 7 p.m. Freer Gallery.
Thursday, February 7: Curator Tour of Ai Weiwei’s Work
Ai Weiwei is a controversial figure in the contemporary art world. Known for his political activism, the Chinese sculptor, photographer and instillation artist often uses his work to criticize political corruption, especially in his home country. In 2011, he was arrested and held for two months without official charges, which prompted protests for his release around the world. Understanding the social and political implications of his works can be difficult, so curators Mika Yoshitake and Carol Huh team up this evening for a tour of his two exhibits at Smithsonian, “According to What?” and “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads.” They will contextualize the exhibits and interpret his works from multiple perspectives. Free. 7 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum.
Also check out our specially created Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is also packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
August 6, 2012
Barbara Kruger’s iconic red, white and black words are finding their way back into a familiar place—one that is not a gallery. “Belief + Doubt,” the latest exhibition by the artist famous for slogans like “I shop therefore I am,” opens August 20 in the bookstore at the Hirshhorn Museum. Until then, visitors can preview a site-specific installation in the lower lobby that plasters the escalators, floors, walls and ceilings with words that portray themes from absolutism to consumerism.
The space is one of the Hirshhorn’s most highly trafficked locations, but it has long remained a subdued passageway that simply connected visitors to more contemplative, artistic galleries. Exhibition curator Melissa Ho says that the decision was “based on a larger effort by the museum to activate new parts of our campus to show art. The lobby is a place of total movement. It is not a sheltered place but one with lots of bodies, all going places.”
Kruger’s work was deemed a perfect fit for both the museum’s iconic architecture and for the bustling hum of the lobby. “[Her] art operates outside of galleries, in the middle of everyday life. It really has the power to grab your eye and stick in your head. This space was previously ignored, but now people are riveted. They spend a long time reading down there.”
“Belief + Doubt” invites its audience to participate in a lobby of language. The power of words can be found not only in meaning but also in size, with some words taking up entire walls, and open-ended questions covering the floors and ceilings. Kruger makes use of architecture so that reading, an act generally considered still and personal, becomes a much more physical experience.
Many of the themes represented in the exhibition will be familiar to Kruger fans, including consumerism and questions of the circulation of power. Different, though, is how these themes echo given their new context: the nation’s capital during the onset of an election year. The largest display and the inspiration for the exhibition’s title, reads: “Belief + Doubt = Sanity.” This language contrasts starkly with the absolutism that abounds in many political campaigns. “It’s telling us that ideological absolutism isn’t always a good thing,” says Ho.
The exhibition continues into the museum’s newly renovated gift shop, forcing shoppers to consider the act of purchasing while browsing. The words, “You want it, you buy it, you forget it” loom over museum-goers as they shop, a detail that Ho says makes the experience more valuable. “When those words are actually executed,” she says, “you understand them all the more.”
February 7, 2012
Our inquisitive readers are rising to the challenge we gave them last month. The questions are pouring in and we’re ready for more. Do you have any questions for our curators? Submit your questions here.
How much is the Hope Diamond worth? — Marjorie Mathews, Silver Spring, Maryland
That’s the most popular question we get, but we don’t really satisfy people by giving them a number. There are a number of answers, but the best one is that we honestly don’t know. It’s a little bit like Liz Taylor’s jewels being sold in December—all kinds of people guessed at what they would sell for, but everybody I know was way off. Only when those pieces were opened up to bidding at a public auction could you find out what their values were. When they were sold, then at least for that day and that night you could say, well, they were worth that much. The Hope Diamond is kind of the same way, but more so. There’s simply nothing else like it. So how do you put a value on the history, on the fact it’s been here on display for over 50 years and a few hundred million people have seen it, and on that fact it’s a rare blue diamond on top of everything else? You don’t. – Jeffrey E. Post, mineralogist, National Museum of Natural History
What’s the worst impact of ocean acidification so far?- Nancy Schaefer, Virginia Beach, Virginia
The impacts of ocean acidification are really just starting to be felt, but two big reports that came out in 2011 show that it could have very serious effects on coral reefs. These studies did not measure the warming effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but rather its effect of making the ocean more acidic when it dissolves in the ocean. Places where large amounts of carbon dioxide seep into the water from the sea floor provide a natural experiment and show us how ocean waters might look, say, 50 or 100 years from now. Both studies showed branching, lacy, delicate coral forms are likely to disappear, and with them that kind of three-dimensional complexity so many species depend on. Also, other species that build a stony skeleton or shell, such as oysters or mussels, are likely to be affected. This happens because acidification makes carbonate ions, which these species need for their skeletons, less abundant.
Nancy Knowlton, marine biologist
National Museum of Natural History
Art and artifacts from ancient South Pacific and Pacific Northwest tribes have similarities in form and function. Is it possible that early Hawaiians caught part of the Kuroshio Current of the North Pacific Gyre to end up along the northwest coast of America from northern California to Alaska? — April Amy Croan, Maple Valley, Washington
Those similarities have given rise to various theories, including trans-Pacific navigation, independent drifts of floating artifacts, inadvertent crossings by ships that have lost their rudders or rigging, or whales harpooned in one area that died or were captured in a distant place. Some connections are well-known, like feather garment fragments found in an archaeological site in Southeast Alaska that appear to have been brought there by whaling ships that had stopped in the Hawaiian Islands, a regular route for 19th-century whalers. Before the period of European contact, the greatest similarities are with the southwest Pacific, not Hawaii. The Kushiro current would have facilitated Asian coastal contacts with northwestern North America, but would not have helped Hawaiians. The problem of identification is one of context, form and dating. Most of the reported similarities are either out of their original context (which can’t be reconstructed), or their form is not specific enough to relate to another area’s style, or the date of creation cannot be established. To date there is no acceptable proof for South Pacific-Northwest Coast historical connections that predates the European whaling era, except for links that follow the coastal region of the North Pacific into Alaska.
William Fitzhugh, archeologist
Natural History Museum