The Hirshhorn Collection’s Glorious Weirdness

THE DAILY PIC: The museum's new chief curator falls in love with its holdings.


THE DAILY PIC: These two pieces are by Philippe Hiquily, from 1959, and Sergio Storel, working 11 years later – a Frenchman and an Italian who are hardly household names, but are part of the “the gallery of great forgotten ones” that makes up the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington. The quote is from the new Hirshhorn chief curator Stéphane Aquin, whose profile I just published in the New York Times and whose career I’ve been watching since he and I were both art critics at Canadian newspapers in the late 1990s. The Times piece didn’t have room to describe a wonderful walk Aquin and I took through the Hirshhorn’s permanent collection galleries, where it was a pleasure to watch him wax enthusiastic about the peculiar objects newly under his care. My Times article focuses on the daring shows he will have to mount if the Hirshhorn is to truly, deeply matter beyond the Beltway. But the most daring thing Aquin could do would be to ignore temporary exhibitions, at least a little bit, and go back to a model where the most important “show” a museum could ever present would be the works that it actually owns. Because the Hirshhorn is built around the wildly eclectic tastes of its founder, that “show” is eternally surprising. “We’re walking around in a 1960s utopia,” Aquin says, as we circumambulate the donut-shaped building. It’s about “overthrowing a traditional canon of beauty, and respecting it.” When I asked him if he was really going to be able to make the Hirshhorn matter as America’s “national” museum of modern art, he revealed himself as, still, a true Quebecois: “I’ll answer like Trudeau – ‘Just watch me’ .” (Hiquily’s Indifferent One was photographed by Cathy Carver; Storel’s Spatial Flower was shot by Lee Stalsworth)

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