News & Politics

A Boulder Crushing a Car Will Soon Take Up Residence Outside the Hirshhorn Museum

Jimmie Durham's sculpture weighs 11,000 pounds.

Still Life with Spirit and Xitle displayed in Miami Beach. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will install a new piece to its entrance on Independence Avenue—a 9,000 pound boulder (wearing a smiling face) crushing a car to the ground.

“It won’t be the biggest or the heaviest, but it certainly will be the most striking [sculpture] that you will encounter on the Hirshhorn Plaza and on the mall,” said the Hirshhorn Museum’s chief curator, Stéphane Aquin.

The museum permanently acquired Jimmie Durham‘s Still Life With Spirit and Xitle from the Peter Freeman Gallery in New York after initially wanting it for its 2013 exhibition, “Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950.” The 2007 creation was made in Mexico out of lava stone from the Xitle volcano in Mexico, acrylic paint, and a 1992 Dodge Spirit—a car that Durham says “is the fastest and roughest on the road, used by both the police and crooks all over Mexico at the time.” 

The piece became available last summer, and the Hirshhorn began to brainstorm several aspects of hosting the piece. With an art sculpture of this magnitude how to transport it, how to place the boulder exactly where it first crushed the car, and “where the hell do we put that?” were some of the questions Aquin had in mind. “It’s a boulder on a car, 11,000 pounds, so it’s actually a very challenging piece for conservation and installation.”

The sculpture, set to arrive on August 6, will sit on a steel plate right in front of the Hirshhorn–the floors of the museum won’t be able to hold the piece. A crane will lower the boulder onto the car in the angle it was first installed. Because the sculpture will be exposed to the elements, Aquin says the museum has laid out a plan to monitor the degradation of the car and to eventually replace it.

“[Durham] wants it to be one of these typical Washington, D.C. diplomat cars. Something like these Cadillac Escalades you see when there’s a motorcade,” Aquin said. “That would bring the ball home.”

Although Durham says that although he does “not make messages” with his visual art “one arrived anyway: that of nature being stronger than our pretensions.”

“Contemporary art has a bad reputation of being boring, elitist and incomprehensible. It’s not all true, and Jimmie Durham is one of those artists that proves it,” said Aquin. “To see a car being crushed by a boulder with a smiling face on it, it’s like nature is taking over again, crushing these forces of industry that have done wrong.”

Jennifer Ortiz
Editorial Fellow