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Hirshhorn to unveil two acquisitions as it reopens its sculpture garden

Museum welcomes monumental 2018 works by Huma Bhabha and Sterling Ruby

Huma Bhabha, We Come in Peace (2018), installed in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC last month William Andrews

The Hirshhorn Museum is unveiling two new acquisitions, monumental sculptures by the artists Huma Bhabha and Sterling Ruby, as its garden reopens to the public on Monday. The museum itself and its outdoor plaza remain closed for now.

Welcoming visitors at the 1.5-acre sculpture garden’s National Mall entrance will be Bhabha’s multicoloured We Come in Peace (2018), which is more than 12 feet tall. The Hirshhorn says that the Pakistani-American sculptor’s work is intended to pose questions about the nation’s complex relationship with refugees and immigrants.

Ruby’s melancholic bronze DOUBLE CANDLE, rising over 24 feet and also dating from 2018, will be centrally stationed by the garden’s reflecting pool and evokes national memory and unity. “The candles are simultaneously identifiable and abstract, holding a multitude of meanings and emotions,” Ruby says in a statement. “They stand for loss as well as love, they celebrate light and the eternal, while motioning towards an expiration.”

Sterling Ruby, DOUBLE CANDLE (2018), installed in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden last month William Andrews

The sculptures are the first by the two artists to enter the Hirshhorn’s collection and join more than 60 Modern and contemporary works on view outdoors in the sunken space.

The garden is reopening amid controversy over a plan to renovate it in concert with the artist and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto. While Sugimoto’s design has drawn support from some architects and museum directors, critics say that it would markedly change the appearance of an honoured environment created over time by the architect Gordon Bunshaft and the landscape designer Lester Collins.

Perhaps most significantly, according to the advocacy group the Cultural Landscape Foundation, it would replace the reflecting pool with a far bigger one and install stacked stone walls, which the foundation says would “sever key relationships” between Bunshaft’s drum-shaped museum building and the garden. The Hirshhorn, however, says the “revitalisation” is needed to repair damaged infrastructure, provide more variety in programming and make the space more dynamic and accessible, and emphasises that it is continuing the public consultation process.

The sculpture garden will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visitors aged 6 and older will be required to wear masks and social distancing will be maintained, says the museum, which shut down on 12 March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.