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Hirshhorn’s ‘At the Hub of Things’ challenges viewers to find links between works of art

This new space on the Hirshhorn’s third floor houses, from left, “Amerika — A Refuge” by Tim Rollins and K.O.S.; “Untitled” by Alighiero e Boetti; and “27K-No8-No26” by Hanne Darboven. (Cathy Carver)
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The Hirshhorn, a hollow cylinder on legs, looks like a spaceship, ready to blast off on a mission to spread modern art to other galaxies.

That’s not so far from how curators Evelyn Hankins and Melissa Ho see the museum: as a conveyance for ideas through time and space. That’s the theme of the new permanent collection showcase, “At the Hub of Things: New Views of the Collection,” which opens Thursday and kicks off the museum’s 40th anniversary celebration.

“We wanted to create a sort of futuristic communication hub, where ideas converge,” Hankins says. “Rather than show things in a strictly art-historical, chronological progression, we decided to make groupings that combine artists from different countries and different generations.”

The result? A lively conversation between artworks from all over the world.

In the past, the third floor of the museum devoted small rooms to individual artists. Now, it’s up to the viewer to figure out what the pieces in a given space have in common with one another.

“It’s our hope that seeing these things in juxtaposition with each other and dipping into the information we provide will help people make connections,” Ho says.

The new exhibit was made possible by a $1 million renovation that restored the third floor to architect Gordon Bunshaft’s original vision of large rooms flowing into one another.

Renovators tore out walls that broke the galleries into smaller spaces, removed the drop ceiling and got rid of the carpet.

“The carpet precluded the possibility of showing postwar sculpture, since most postwar sculpture sits directly on the ground,” Hankins says.

Now, the third floor is perfect for oversized showstoppers, including a room-sized installation by Ernesto Neto, called “The Dangerous Logic of Wooing.” Sensuous, anthropomorphic forms hang from the ceiling, inviting you to touch them. (Don’t!)

The reworked galleries offer those who are familiar with the collection an opportunity to re-experience old favorites in a new context, Hankins says.

Newbies benefit, too, Ho adds. After all, everyone can play the “what do these things have in common?” game.

“The collection really lends itself to a thematic installation,” she says.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and Seventh Street SW; ongoing, free.

Return to form

The reopening of the Hirshhorn’s third floor heralds a new series of public events. Upcoming highlights include:

Hirshhorn After Hours with Zola Jesus

Unlike Lady Gaga, with whom she’s often compared and contrasted, Zola Jesus produces actual art pop. Her new album, “Taiga,” gestures toward radio-friendliness with electro-dance beats, but don’t expect a rave around the Hirshhorn fountain. Fri., 8 p.m., $25.

‘Days of Endless Time’: In Conversation with Lapham’s Quarterly

Former Harper’s Magazine editor Lewis H. Lapham will discuss the Hirshhorn’s “Days of Endless Time” exhibit, which features artists who use video to capture moments of stillness. Oct. 22, 7 p.m., free.

Claes Oldenburg

You’ve perhaps seen his giant typewriter wheel at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. The influential sculptor also has two works on display in “At the Hub of Things.” At this lecture, he’ll discuss how he transforms ordinary things into objects of wonder. Nov. 8, 4 p.m., free.

Read more Express stories about exhibits:

‘Nasta’liq’ at Sackler showcases the most popular form of Persian calligraphy

Chiharu Shiota’s ‘Over the Continents’ at the Sackler Gallery finds beauty in old shoes

‘Salvatore Scarpitta: Traveler’ at Hirshhorn shows how the artist took sprint car racing from the track to the gallery