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Hirshhorn at 50: ‘Revolutions’ offers an artistic journey through time, Arts innovations

Baku, March 28, AZERTAC

In a 50th anniversary celebration, “Revolutions: Art from the Hirshhorn Collection, 1860–1960” showcases the beauty and breadth of artworks, highlights the evolution of arts and culture, and relays artistic narratives that have worked to empower, reveal truths and promote change, according to The Washington Informer.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden opened 50 years ago with 6,000 objects from the collection of Joseph Hirshhorn, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. In a 1975 interview published by Creative Arts Television, Hirshhorn described his collecting practice between the years of 1950-1969 as almost daily, spending an estimated $1 million per year.

“The Hirshhorn opened in 1974 as a modern art museum,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “It has since become a modern and contemporary museum, largely because of Joseph H. Hirshhorn’s vision that his foundational gift should meet the needs of a national museum dedicated to the art of our time.”

In “Revolutions,” Hirshhorn’s prowess is on full display. The exhibition presents 270 works by 126 artists including Reginald Marsh, Joan Mitchell, Georgia ‘Okeefe, Jackson Pollock, Jacob Lawrence, Thomas Eakins, Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder and others.

“‘Revolutions’ reminds us that we are connected to an art-historical continuum through engagement with artists, artwork and ideas — in person and virtually,” Chiu explained.

Organized chronologically, “Revolutions’” expansive layout mirrors the bleed of time from one art historical movement to the next. From large-scale portraiture to cubism, abstract expressionism and beyond, the exhibition highlights artistic production in the wake of social, political, and economic change.

For example, “Aftershock” explores how artists responded to WWII. Upon entering this section, viewers are greeted by Francis Bacon’s “Study for Portrait V” (1953), an image where the human form has become less recognizable, the color palette dark, and the tone eerie. This journey through the past also proves to collapse our understanding of time.

Within each thematic grouping, works by contemporary artists like Flora Yukhnovich and Rashid Johnson are infused to demonstrate the continuity of modernist impressions.

Conversations emerge as O’keefe’s “Goat’s Horn with Red” (1945) lives next to Loie Hollowell’s “Boob Wheel” (2019), and as Amoako Boafo’s “Cobalt Blue Dress” (2020) sits between paintings by John Singer Sargent and Thomas Eakins, celebrated figures in American art.

This isn’t the first time contemporary works have been in conversation with the past, but the dialogue here is more than a discussion, it’s also an assertion.

As the nation’s museum of modern and contemporary art, inclusion of contemporary artists is a bold move that claims authority over who is and who remains relevant and demonstrates how the Hirshhorn has imbued diversity into a founding collection that was primarily white and male.

In uplifting diversity, the Hirshhorn highlights lesser-known histories and relationships like Hector Hyppolite, a Caribbean artist with loose connections to surrealism. The inclusion of Hyppolite offers a point of reference that differs beyond Paris, André Breton and mainstream understanding of the surrealism movement, creating space for deeper engagement.

There are many ways co-curators Marina Isgro and Betsy Johnson could have organized this exhibition. It would have been easy to recreate the museum’s inaugural show with art history’s greatest hits on parade. And, while some grandstanding is unavoidable given the breadth of the Hirshhorn’s collection, Isgro and Johnson use the museum’s 50th anniversary as a visual manifesto.

The openness of design encourages audiences to perceive artistic intervention as a constant non-linear exchange. In “Revolutions,” viewers witness the past anticipate the future, as it informs contemporaneous moments.

Some discussions are direct while others layered and subtle. It’s overwhelming, all-encompassing, and certainly worth a second visit.

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