Arts Desk

Plans for Hirshhorn Bubble Continue, Even as Delays Loom

Everything about the way the Hirshhorn pitched the Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed bubble extension to the museum suggested that the project was as much a draft as a declaration. So it comes as little surprise that the implementation may be delayed passed its announced 2012 opening date, as Tyler Green reports.

Recall that news of the Hirshhorn's bubble appeared in The New York Times before the Hirshhorn consulted the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Smithsonian Board of Regents, or the museum's own board of trustees. (As a recurring but temporary addition, the bubble only required the approval of the last of these groups.)

It seems now (as it seemed then) that the leak to the Times was a pitch for financial support—a not-uncommon strategy to turn a project into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The bubble has since drawn $1 million from Bloomberg. And the Pearson Foundation, Nokia, the MacArthur Foundation, and others put in another $1.5 million toward a year-long "lobby classroom"—which is how plain-old museum visitors will take part in bubble programming, which will be specifically geared to "curated, invitation-only audiences," according to The Wall Street Journal.

From the start, there were clearer plans for the programming for the bubble than for its construction or financing. Mum's the word from the Hirshhorn as to when the bubble will be blown—but what about those programs already in the works?

In an interview with Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek last September, The Wall Street Journal outlined the agenda for the bubble:

For the inaugural week in October 2012, the focus will be on "new applications of cultural dialogue and diplomacy," organized in a partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations. Later that month, "Open Sources" will explore how technology is driving culture. The following May will feature a week on "art and destruction," with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Luminaries in the visual arts and other disciplines who will help organize the meetings include conductor Daniel Barenboim, movie director Kathryn Bigelow, and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (because, Mr. Koshalek says, he has spoken out against culturally isolating nations like North Korea).

[ . . . ]

Already, there are plans for the event on cultural diplomacy to explore the impact of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, conceived in 1999 by Mr. Barenboim and the late Edward Said, which brings together young musicians from the Middle East to play and reflect on the Palestinian-Israeli problem. The World Digital Library, through which the Library of Congress, the Library of Alexandria, in Egypt, and dozens of other libraries world-wide are making primary source materials available free on the Internet in multilingual format, is another agenda item.

Nothing about those plans has changed, the Council on Foreign Relations confirmed this afternoon, though the date is only "tentatively" set for October 2012. (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will no longer be attending—at least, not as President of Brazil).

The fact that the Hirshhorn bubble is moving ahead with planning (and staffing) suggests real confidence on Koshalek's part.

Critics have shot darts at the bubble for a number of reasons, but an exorbitant price tag has not been one of them. For the Hirshhorn to fall short on a total $7.5 million fundraising campaign—if that indeed is the final price tag for the project—will expose a real problem for the institution. The bubble's got free press galore and widespread appeal; if it can't draw funds, it's not the bubble that's the problem.

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