Cafritz, Philippa Hughes Parse Barbara Kruger’s Text

Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek, curator Melissa Ho, and Erica Clark, associate director of program partnerships. Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Rain fell on the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden last night as trustee Jane Cafritz and some 100 other guests attended the opening of a special commission by artist Barbara Kruger.

It was a good showing for the dog days in Washington -- curator Melissa Ho called the timing “a counterintuitive strategy.”

Kruger’s installation, “Belief+Doubt,” covers about 6,700 square feet of the museum with text-printed vinyl. Guests were surrounded by giant words on the walls, floors, sides of escalators.

Art collector Philippa Hughes and other guests ate roast beef sandwiches and sipped champagne in the main-level bookshop, which will be demolished in the coming days. Hard hats were part of the decor to say farewell to the store, which has been in its current location for 27 years.

A new bookstore is now downstairs and part of Kruger’s installation.

The work reflects a museum initiative to bring art to “new sites in and around the Hirshhorn,” according to a press release. In the same vein, Doug Aitken’s film “SONG 1” was projected on the circular building’s facade earlier this year.

Kruger’s text consists of questions and observations with a touch of whimsy and humor. One wall reads “Belief + Doubt = Sanity” in white letters on a bright-red background. Another wall wants to know “When was the last time you laughed?” in black and white.

Buy, Forget

Smiley faces pop up. The sides of the escalator say, “You want it, you buy it, you forget it.”

The vinyl was donated by 3M Co., represented last night by Gregory M. Walters, from the international trade and government affairs division.

Richard Koshalek, the Hirshhorn’s director, said he has worked with Kruger for more than 25 years. He explained that he wanted her to “curate a public space to establish dialogue with the city we are in.” The artist herself wasn’t present.

“Belief+Doubt” is perfect for the nation’s capital, where power is currency, Koshalek said.

Ho said that the work speaks to “the circulation of power, and the power of language to change reality.”

Liam Cleaver, a program director for International Business Machines Corp., said he got into a minor tiff about the piece with his wife, museum consultant Ace Everett.

You might say they had words.

(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

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