Hirshhorn had long planned to keep his collection together in a museum so that the art could be accessible and give others the pleasure it had given him. The breadth of Hirshhorn's sculpture collection was unknown to the general public until 1962, when selected works were loaned to the Guggenheim Museum in New York for a major exhibition. 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, DC, which had no significant modern art museums 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 B. 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 National Mall by the federal government. The initial gift numbered more than six thousand pieces of art, and Hirshhorn bequeathed the Museum an additional six thousand items and an endowment of five million dollars at his death. On November 7, 1966, the US Congress passed legislation accepting the gift and giving the Smithsonian responsibility for the new museum.
Similar to the round Guggenheim Museum in New York, the drum-shaped Hirshhorn is a stark contrast to the other classical and Victorian buildings nearby. The building is is 231 feet in diameter, 82 feet high, elevated 14 feet on four piers. The building and walls are surfaced with precast concrete aggregate of "Swenson" pink granite and the museum has some 197,000 square feet of total exhibition space, indoors and outdoors, with 60,000 square feet of exhibition space on three floors and 2.7 acres around and under the building. The Sculpture Garden is 1.3 acres and sunken six to fourteen feet below street level.
- Chronology of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- Bibliography of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- Historic Images of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Records from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Historic Picture Highlights of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- Additional Records and Collections of the of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Across the Smithsonian