Agency history, 1966-

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  • Hirshhorn, Joseph H
  • Ripley, S. Dillon (Sidney Dillon) 1913-2001
  • Johnson, Lyndon B (Lyndon Baines) 1908-1973
  • Johnson, Lady Bird 1912-2007
  • Bunshaft, Gordon 1909-1990
  • Collins, Lester -1993
  • Lerner, Abram
  • Demetrion, James
  • Rifkin, Ned
  • Viso, Olga M. 1966-
  • Brougher, Kerry
  • Chiu, Melissa
  • Koshalek, Richard
  • United States Congress
  • Army Medical Museum (U.S.)


Agency History


  • This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
  • Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian History, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden,, accessed July 28, 2021.
  • The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was a gift to the nation from the financier and avid collector of modern art, Joseph H. Hirshhorn. Hirshhorn began his collecting with prints in 1917, and it became his lifelong passion. Hirshhorn's collection is best known for its nineteenth and twentieth century sculpture, including the works of Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, Calder, and Moore. He also collected widely and enthusiastically from the works of contemporary American painters, including, among many others, Thomas Eakins, Willem de Kooning, Raphael Soyer, and Larry Rivers.
  • Hirshhorn had long planned to keep his collection together in a museum so that its art could be accessible and give others the pleasure it had given him. Because of the strength of the collection, many museums throughout the United States and around the world courted Hirshhorn with offers of a museum and support for his holdings. Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley very much wanted to see a museum of contemporary art in Washington, which had no significant contemporary museum at the time. Ripley worked to persuade Hirshhorn that he should choose Washington and the Smithsonian from among many competitors for his art. In this effort he had the powerful assistance of President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, who enthusiastically wooed Hirshhorn over several years. Finally in 1966 Hirshhorn announced that he would give his entire collection to the Smithsonian, to be housed in a museum named for him and constructed on the Mall by the federal government. The initial gift numbered more than 6,000 pieces of art, and Hirshhorn bequeathed the Museum an additional 6,000 items and an endowment of five million dollars at his death.
  • On November 7, 1966, Congress passed legislation accepting the gift and giving the Smithsonian responsibility for the new museum. The Hirshhorn, designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft, was the first modern building on the National Mall. The new museum was placed on the site of the Army Medical Museum, now the National Museum of Health and Medicine, which was demolished and its collections moved to the Walter Reed Medical Center campus. The hollow-centered, elevated cylinder - primarily a gallery for paintings - floats above nearly four acres of landscaped grounds for sculpture. Curved galleries expand the visitor's view of works. An entire wall of windows opens the interior and focuses on the fountain, with a recessed garden. In 1981, the Sculpture Garden was redesigned and renovated by Lester Collins, a Washington-based landscape architect, to include graded ramps along the north border of the garden to give disabled visitors access to the major viewing level. A third ramp provided access to the lower level, and pathways were resurfaced in brick to make it wheelchair accessible.
  • The Hirshhorn Museum opened to the public in October 1974 under the direction of Abram Lerner, who had been appointed in 1967 after curating Hirshhorn's personal collection in New York and advising him on art purchases since 1955. Lerner retired in October 1984 and was succeeded by James T. Demetrion, formerly director of the Des Moines Art Center. Demetrion retired in 2001 and was succeeded by Ned Rifkin, 2002-2005 and then Olga M. Viso, 2005-2007. Kerry Brougher served as acting director from 2007-2009. Richard Koshalek was then director from, 2009-2013. Following the resignation of Koshalek, Melissa Chiu was appointed director in 2014.

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 1954
  • 1966-


  • Art
  • Art museums
  • Art, Modern


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00013

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