…and you’ve never seen the Hirshhorn. Well then…
You’re in DC for business and you’ve got a few hours to burn. Most likely this isn’t your first visit– maybe you brought the kids here a few years ago or you came into town as a kid yourself with a school trip (either recently or a hundred years ago like me). You’ve probably already seen the monuments and the standard Smithsonian museums like Air & Space, etc.
If that’s the case, here’s a nice, simple itinerary that will give you a 2-3 hour shot of modern art…at one of my favorite museums in the world, the Hirshhorn.
You’ll have to move sort of quickly, and I realize that that isn’t the best way to take in art. But if you’ve got limited time, there’s no choice. If you keep up the pace you can do this in 2 hours. If you take your time you could stretch it out to three (easy), maybe even 4 depending on how much of the Hirshhorn you want to see.
TIMING TIP: After you’re done, are you heading to Union Station? When you’re done with this short walk you’re going to end up at the Hirshhorn. That’s a walkable distance to Union Station, but it’s a long walk. It’s about 1.5 miles from Union Station to the Hirshhorn, which should take you 40 minutes at a regular pace. Make sure you factor that into your timing if you need to catch an Amtrak, for instance. There isn’t any super-convenient public transportation from the Hirshhorn to Union Station. There is a DC Circulator Bus not too far away and the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza, but by the time you get to both and wait for your stop, you might as well walk already. When I go I usually take the long walk back to Union Station— besides, it’s good for you! End of Timing Tip.
Start by grabbing a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on 7th St. and Pennsylvania Avenue. The store is actually a block off of Pennsylvania, but not really. Technically, it’s on the corner of 7th and Indiana, but Indiana is almost like a side-road and you can see the Starbucks from Pennsylvania. I say start with a cup of coffee because (1) I like coffee a whole lot, and (2) there’s a short stroll ahead.
Take your coffee and walk south on 7th Street, into the Mall. It’s only about 2 blocks…plus, you’re not going far — once you get into the Mall, you’ll immediately see the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden on your right. It’s on the corner of 7th And Pennsylvania, but the entrance is on 7th. Turn in there and take a walk for 20 minutes or so.
After you’re done, go back out the same entrance (on 7th) and make a right, heading deeper into the Mall, but stay on 7th. Walk down 7th and cross through the Mall…and take in the scenery. This is a popular area, so look around and savor the moment. Depending on the time of year there could be people playing ball or jogging– this is a great place to stop and people-watch, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you have some coffee left you could sit on a bench and enjoy it. Otherwise, keep walking through the Mall to the other end, which is where you’ll find the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. If you want more Sculpture Garden, then walk through the Hirshhorn’s. Personally, this is my favorite Sculpture Garden anywhere. There are pieces by Henry Moore, Rodin, and Koons. In fact, there’s a shiny Koons work called Kiepenkerl at the entrance to the Gardens on Jefferson Drive. I did a little research on that work and I wrote a blog post here, if you’re interested.
After you’re done with the Garden, don’t go into the Museum just yet. First, walk all the way around the Hirshhorn and take in the artwork outside. One of my favorite sculptures is here- “Needle Tower” By Kenneth Snelson. Do a complete loop around the outside of the building so (1) you don’t miss anything, and (2) you get a good look at the building itself. It’s a piece of art in-and-of itself.
After you enter the museum you’re on your own. However, if you’re under a time constraint, I recommend that you go to two places– the 3rd floor and the basement. For some reason, those two floors always have the most interesting things (according to my taste, that is). From a time perspective, the 3rd floor will take you much longer than the basement. The third floor wraps all the way around the building and also has an inner corridor with sculpture. The basement is usually a few current exhibitions and is smaller (and quicker to get through).
Remember- if you’re walking back to Union Station to catch a train, you’ll need to give yourself a good 40 minutes for the walk.