The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is an art museum beside the National Mall. The museum was initially endowed during the 1960s with the permanent art collection of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. One of the “big five” modern art museums in the U.S., and is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It was conceived as the United States’ museum of contemporary and modern art and currently focuses its collection-building and exhibition-planning mainly on the post–World War II period, with particular emphasis on art made during the last 50 years. Notable artists in the collection include: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, John Chamberlain, Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning, Milton Avery, Ellsworth Kelly, Louise Nevelson, Arshile Gorky, Edward Hopper, Larry Rivers, and Raphael Soyer among others. Outside the museum is a sculpture garden, featuring works by artists including Auguste Rodin, David Smith, Alexander Calder, Jeff Koons and others.
The building itself is as much of an attraction as anything inside, likened by many to a large spacecraft parked on the National Mall. The building is essentially an open cylinder elevated by four massive “legs,” with a large fountain occupying the central courtyard. Before Gordon Bunshaft, of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, designed the building, the Smithsonian staff reportedly told him that, if it did not provide a striking contrast to everything else in the city, then it would be unfit for housing a modern art collection.