Artist and photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto has been selected to redesign the lobby of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the first time the space has been touched in the museum’s 42-year history. The Tokyo-born artist, along with his Tokyo-based architectural firm, New Material Research Laboratory (NMRL), will be responsible for not only designing sculptures and furniture for the lobby of the Gordon Bunshaft-designed museum, but the new café in the lobby’s east end as well.
Seeking to reference the round form of the Hishhorn building, Sugimoto drew inspiration for the furnishings from the roots of a 700-year old Japanese nutmeg tree. The imagery of twisted, chaotic roots will be reflected in the lobby’s central group table, and the spiraling chairs surrounding it.
“I became fascinated by the roots of an enormous tree, which fanned out to form a large circle, and I decided that this was the circle I would install in the Hirshhorn lobby – a symbol of life,” said Sugimoto. “All art takes its inspiration from the power inherent in nature, and my hope is that as visitors enter the museum, they will experience the balance of the man-made and natural circles.”
Sugimoto will be leaving Bunshaft’s original terrazzo floors, deeply coffered ceiling and exposed aggregate walls, but the artist removed the dark film that covers the lobby’s 3,300-square feet of windows, and opened the space up to views of the National Mall. The rotunda will also see new signage and welcome desks, in addition to the installation of Your oceanic feeling (2015), a swirling light sculpture by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.
The lobby’s renovation will coincide with the opening of Dolcezza Coffee & Gelato at Hirshhorn, and Sugimoto has designed a 20-foot long, serpentine coffee bar plated in diamond-shape brass and tin plates.
The Hirshhorn and Sugimoto have a long history together, as in 2006 the museum was the first institution to present a career survey of Sugimoto’s work. The new lobby, and Dolcezza, will formally open to the public in February 2018.