The Smithsonian budget, 70 percent of which is federal money, offers a generous buffer to its museums in uncertain economic times, but Smithsonian leaders oversee many decisions, including fundraising, and have a final say on projects, which in the case of the Bubble was a source of conflict.
In a statement, Tom Hill, who resigned as board chairman in October, stressed what he called the Hirshhorn’s central mission. “It is important for the Hirshhorn to keep the focus on its real value proposition, which is that great art and great exhibitions can spark dialogue, educate, inspire and have real cultural value for the country,” he wrote.
Hill said that when the Bubble debate is forgotten years from now, people “will still be talking about the great experiences they had with exhibitions like Doug Aitken’s ‘Song 1’ projected on the outside of the building, Ai Weiwei’s first American retrospective, the recent Yves Klein retrospective or some other show or artwork that has made them see things differently.”
Board member Dan Sallick says he’s encouraged by the Hirshhorn’s renewed opportunity to focus on art, infrastructure and getting more people excited about the museum. “It’s a chance to engage people from the top board level down to $250 gifts, so there’s a real base,” he says. Every conversation is about how to move forward, he says, and a major component of that will be getting a director who will stay seven to 10 years, and focusing on next year’s 40th anniversary.
In 2008, Sallick says, he was so blown away by a Brougher-curated exhibition called “The Cinema Effect,” an exploration of moving-image art, that he wrote the museum a check the next day. “When you look at the list of shows like that, it makes Ai Weiwei and Aitken seem like part of a continuum,” he says. There is sometimes the suggestion that Koshalek arrived, and suddenly the Hirshhorn did, too. “Richard helped to facilitate” the museum’s blockbuster year, Sallick says, but “we were doing incredibly good things before that, we did good things while he was here and we’re going to do good things in the future.”
Caplan, who took over when Hill resigned and was named board director in May, was an ardent supporter of Koshalek and the Bubble. She emphasizes the importance of the Hirshhorn’s 11,500-item collection, but says she resigned over concerns about where the institution was heading and how it was run. “The real question is what can you do to make a difference in contemporary art that’s about the culture world as well,” Caplan says. “It’s not just exhibitions. It’s really opening people’s eyes to new ways of thinking.”