Sorry, just plain forgot to include this in yesterday’s weekend roundup post: In The New Republic, Architect magazine senior editor Kriston Capps came out against Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek’s architectural folly, the Diller + Scofidio so-called Bubble. [Illustration via Twitter user @Gina_Rafaella.]
I don’t quite buy all of Capps’ points — for me the Bubble is a bad idea because the Hirshhorn is an art museum, the Bubble has nothing to do with art and I have this wacky idea that an art museum should be about art — but it’s notable that yet another Washington-based critic has written in opposition to the project.
Former Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik has repeatedly expressed befuddlement with the project both in the Post in 2009 (link apparently no longer available) and, more recently, here. I’ve written in opposition to the project since 2009, noting that in addition to not being about art, it is a redundancy (the Hirshhorn has an excellent, recently upgraded auditorium) that distracts the museum both from its mission and from greater needs.
And it’s not just critics who don’t believe. Longtime Hirshhorn board chair J. Tomilson Hill resigned last month after a board meeting that sources described as being an intense discussion about the future of the ‘Bubble’ project. Hill was admired by the staff and earned raves for distancing the Hirshhorn from the Smithsonian’s censorship of the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibition. A statement Hill issued upon departing mentioned his support for the Hirshhorn’s collecting and exhibition programs, but did not express similar support for the Bubble. (Constance Caplan, who sources say has made a pledge to the project, is acting board chair.) Hill is the chairman of the board of directors of the Lincoln Center Theater, and earlier this year he joined the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sources at the Hirshhorn have long indicated that many Hirshhorn staffers are frustrated by how much time and effort the long-shot project is taking, and that it detracts from the museum’s core activities such as collecting art, originating exhibitions and scholarship, all of which have declined during Koshalek’s tenure.
From the start, the project has been marked by poor — and occasionally embarrassing — fundraising. Since the project was unveiled in 2009, the museum has announced just one donation, a $1 million gift from Bloomberg LP in 2010. When the Hirshhorn announced that gift, the museum claimed there was a second donation in-hand, but it has never publicly detailed that gift or any other. In July 2010, Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough told MAN that the Smithsonian would not be contributing funds toward the project and strongly indicated that the Castle would not help with fundraising.
The project’s opening date has been pushed back at least once. The Hirshhorn Bubble has long resembled the way Koshalek’s hopes for architectural statement-making at his previous job, as head of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, meandered and eventually disintegrated. So far as I know, Koshalek’s last comment on the program’s opening date came in a Twitter chat in which he promised a “spring, 2013″ opening. I could not find an opening date on the Hirshhorn’s website.
It’s long past time for the Hirshhorn and its board to give up on architectural folly and to re-dedicate all of its energies to art, collecting and scholarship.