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Nicolas Party reveals largest work to date at the Hirshhorn

Debut 18 September 2021
Draw the Curtain (2021) will wrap around the Hirshhorn Museum's entire facade.

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The exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum's iconic cylindrical building will be the site of Nicolas Party’s newest artwork, debuting Sept. 18. Draw the Curtain (2021) will wrap 360 degrees around the temporary scaffolding that encases the museum building and will span a circumference of 829 feet, becoming the artist’s largest work to date. An original pastel painting digitally collaged and printed onto scrim, the site-specific commission will transform the Hirshhorn’s façade into a monumental canvas that stands out against the landscape of predominantly neo-classical buildings on the National Mall. The work will be on view through spring 2022 while the building’s envelope undergoes critical repairs.

“We are in the wake of a year that has challenged us to discover new potential in the outdoors as spaces for joy and connection,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “I am excited to welcome Nicolas Party back to the Hirshhorn to this time use the exterior of the building as his canvas. ‘Draw the Curtain’ will activate the museum building to engage with outdoor viewers and the surrounding National Mall in an entirely new way.”

Draw the Curtain will comprise several anonymous faces partially hidden by draped curtains, gazing directly at the viewer no matter where they are viewing from around the building. Known for his unique visual language that simultaneously celebrates and challenges conventions of representational painting, Party steeps this work in art historical technique and symbolism. The featured portraits, painted in black and white, are based on classical sculpture, while the curtains, painted in shades of green, blue, yellow and red, are sampled mostly from 17th-century Dutch paintings. Painted in the tradition of “trompe l’oeil,” the work addresses themes of dupery and illusion, not only hinting at the function of the artwork to hide the construction behind it, but also inviting the viewer to consider what is hidden behind the façades of the surrounding government buildings in the nation’s capital. Painted in the tradition of “trompe l’oeil,” the work addresses themes of dupery and illusion and conjures a scenographic set. It invites passersby to peek backstage behind the “curtain” on the National Mall and examine both the collections housed within the Smithsonian Institution and the contents of the distinctive government buildings dotting the surrounding landscape. Draw the Curtain reminds the viewer of the opacity of these spaces, while inviting them to consider what lies behind the façades of the buildings in the nation’s capital.