Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Hirshhorn’s Bulbous Membrane: Project update

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Thirteen months ago the Hirshhorn announced it hoped to build an inflatable event space. Designed by Diller, Renfro + Scofidio, the Bulbous Membrane appears to be related to a 2006 Rem Koolhaas-Cecil Balmando design for the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion.

I had intended to do a one-year fundraising/project update here, but other newsy Smithsonian events got in the way. Last week I asked the Hirshhorn if there was a final project cost/fundraising goal in place. (As of December, 2009, the Hirshhorn was estimating project costs plus endowment at $7.5 million to $10 million.)

“We are currently completing the schematic design of the project,” Hirshhorn spokesperson Gabriel Riera told me via email. “This phase includes climate, wind and other types of studies.  This should be completed by early March.  At that time, we will have more precise information about design, fabrication, mechanical structures and engineering.  This information will provide us with a more detailed idea about the cost of the project.”

I also asked the museum for a one-year-ish update on project fundraising, specifically how much the Hirshhorn had raised and from how many donors.

“The fundraising is going very well,” Riera said. “As you know, Bloomberg is on board for a million dollars.  There are other major donors as well.  Further details will be announced in mid-May to coincide with our Board meeting.”

The project has been criticized by Washington critics — including by me here on MAN — for having little to do with art and for duplicating a space the museum already has. [Image at left from the Hirshhorn's website.] Former Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik wrote last year that the museum “risks making activity and action the museum’s central goal, with contemplation pushed to dismal second place. Art museums ought to be about three things: Art. Art. And more art.” Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek responded to our criticisms about the Bulbous Membrane and other projects here.

The record of the Hirshhorn’s fundraising for the project is a series of sometimes confusing starts and stops: In an exclusive July Q&A, Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough told MAN that the Castle would not contribute to the project. After Clough’s remarks, I asked the Hirshhorn how fundraising was going eight months in, and the Hirshhorn told me to wait until fall, 2010 for news.

However, before then, Koshalek announced a seven-figure Bulbous Membrane gift at an annual summer fundraiser. Koshalek told attendees that the gift was from a New Yorker, which the Hirshhorn initially confirmed… only to later retract, saying that the gift was not from a New Yorker.

In September, 2010, the Hirshhorn made its promised fall announcement via the Wall Street Journal, revealing a $1 million gift from Bloomberg, LP. Riera told MAN that the $1 million from Bloomberg was unrelated to the August announcement and indirectly called into question whether Koshalek had a seven-figure gift in hand when he announced it at the August event: “These things are still being worked out so I’m not going to confirm any amounts,” Riera said in September. “I will confirm that we’re talking about two separate gifts.”

To date, the museum has announced just the one gift.

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  1. [...] to it as significant for the project. In January, then-Hirshhorn spokesperson Gabriel Riera told MAN that the museum was close to completing the schematic design of the project, a phase which would [...]

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