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Bubble Busting What is the Hirshhorn Museum up to, exactly?

The Hirshhorn Bubble, the Bloomberg Balloon, the Seasonal Inflatable Structure, the Bulbous Membrane—whatever you want to call it—was supposed to open at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden this fall. Designed by hot-shot architecture firm Diller Scofidio+Renfro (which gave New York the High Line), the bubble was to serve as a new kind of architectural pavilion, a place that was little more than defined space. The problem is that it doesn’t appear to have much to do with art. The inaugural programming for the Bubble consists of a variety of symposia, more private than public, designed to usher the Hirshhorn into the lecture circuit—an Aspen Ideas festival for D.C., a TED Talks series for the National Mall. Like the museum’s “Song 1” this spring, the Bubble was to help raise the Hirshhorn’s profile in town, to make it stand out from the other staid museums nearby and to compete with other contemporary art museums that are also relying more and more on spectacles. But director Richard Koshalek’s big idea came under scrutiny this year, as the price of the bubble inflated from $5 million to $15 million and the larger Smithsonian Institution declared it wouldn’t be picking up the tab. There’s no timetable presently scheduled for moving forward with the thing. But if it’s going to happen, the Hirshhorn will need to figure out what it’s for in the first place.

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