Arts Desk

Jessica Dawson to Leave Washington Post for Hirshhorn Bubble

In another big departure from The Washington Post arts section, longtime galleries critic Jessica Dawson is leaving the paper—and the news business—for the Hirshhorn Museum. There she will join the staff for that museum's new temporary event space, known as the Bubble.

Just last November, Dawson, a non-staff columnist, penned a piece celebrating her 10-year anniversary as the Post's galleries critic. Little did readers know then that it would it would practically be her swan song.

Back in September, the American Society of Landscape Architects offered a teaser about the sort of programming the Hirshhorn may be planning for its outdoor/indoor temporary event space—programming that will be led by the Hirshhorn's Erica Clark:

Four programs are in the works, including the first on international cultural diplomacy (to be produced with the Council on Foreign Relations); a second one on open-source technology or how technology drives our culture (to be developed with the MacArthur Foundation); a third on “art and destruction, a common theme throughout history” (to be developed with Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study); and the last one on the world of animation, which will feature commissioned works from leading animators. [Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek] argued that these fora need to be "interdisciplinary because that’s how the Museum can reach a broader audience."

As any critic will, Dawson has had her defenders and detractors. I have counted myself among both. A story Dawson wrote in December 2009 on art collector Mera Rubell, who was brought on by the Washington Project for the Arts to pick artists to contribute to a benefit auction, sent shock waves through the local art community. Some artists felt snubbed, while others felt that her characterization of the local art community as small—presumably what she meant when she likened Rubell's tour here to "Santa visiting the Island of Misfit Toys"—was on point. In the aftermath of that debate, I moderated a panel during which both sides voiced their frustrations. (Loudly.)

Hers is a big voice the Post will miss—all the more so since the Post's chief art critic, Blake Gopnik, announced his move from the paper in December. He relocated to New York to join Tina Brown's Daily Beast–Newsweek outfit. His first review there ran on Sunday. Pulitzer Prize–winning fashion critic Robin Givhan also left the Post for the Beast.

(Full disclosure: I write as a freelance art critic for the Post.)

Dawson, a critic who wrote for the City Paper between 1998 and 2000, joins Glenn Dixon as City Paper alumni who have made the transition from art critic to art worker. Dixon also works at the Hirshhorn and, among other things, serves as the voice of the museum's Twitter feed. Dawson's title at the museum is still under negotiation.

Last week, art critic Tyler Green wrote a post revisiting the Bubble, asking after the project's financing and implementation. After a flurry of news about the project as the museum sought donors, the Hirshhorn has been quiet on the matter. Green reported that the Diller, Renfro + Scofidio–designed project is nearing the end of the design stage.

The Hirshhorn has received a gift of $1 million toward blowing the Bubble from Bloomberg, LP, according to the Wall Street Journal. Green of ARTINFO has reported on another gift that has not to date been finalized. The Hirshhorn is on its own for this one: That Bubble won't see any financial assistance from the larger Smithsonian Institution.

With staff falling into place, the Bubble is one step closer to reality—though it may not actually inflate for the first time before October 2012.

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