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Thursday, 06 June 2013 14:25

Hirshhorn Museum Nixes Bubble Project

The Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. has decided to abandon its Seasonal Inflatable Structure project, also known as “the Bubble.” Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough and Undersecretary Richard Kern announced the decision after the museum’s Director, Richard Koshalek, resigned due to the board of trustees’ inability to reach a consensus in regards to the project. Koshalek will step down on June 29, 2013.

The bubble project, which was considered Koshalek’s signature project, has been in debate since 2009 but was continually stalled due to rising construction costs and conflicting feelings about the structure’s purpose. The original vision was to create a 150-foot-tall bubble that would connect the inside and outside of the Hirshhorn and create additional space for installations and performances. Designed by Diller Scofidio & Renfro, the bubble was expected to cost over $12.5 million to create and install. Previous fund-raising efforts brought in about $7.8 million.

When it was first announced, the Bubble garnered national attention and was applauded for being highly innovated.

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In 2006 The Cardsharps was sold to the late collector and scholar Sir Denis Mahon for just over $65,000 at an auction at Sotheby’s in London. At the time of the sale, Sotheby’s identified the work as being by a “follower” of the Italian master, Caravaggio (1571-1610). However, after his purchase, Mahon identified the work as a Caravaggio original and obtained an export license for the work that put its value at $15.5 million according to a claim filed at London’s High Court of Justice.

Due to their failure to identify The Cardsharps as an authentic Caravaggio painting, Sotheby’s is being sued by Lancelot William Thwaytes, who consigned the work to the 2006 auction. Thwaytes is now seeking unspecified damages, interest, and costs relating to the price difference between the painting’s 2006 selling price and what he believes it was actually worth on the open market that year had it been properly attributed to Caravaggio. Thwaytes claims that Sotheby’s was negligent in its research prior to the work’s sale, leading to its extraordinarily low selling price.

However, Sotheby’s stands behind its belief that the painting is a copy and not a work by Caravaggio’s hand, citing Caravaggio expert Professor Richard Spear and several other leading scholars. Sotheby’s added that their view was supported by the market’s reception to the painting when it was put up for auction.

Mahon, who passed away in 2011, donated 58 works from his collection worth around $155 million to various U.K. galleries.

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The Smithsonian’s plan to build an inflatable pavilion that will bubble out of the Hirshhorn Museum may be put on hold. Announced by Richard Koshalek, the museum’s director, in 2009, costs for the project have tripled from $5 million to $15.5 million over time. If the project comes to fruition, it won’t be completed until 2014. The structure, designed by the architectural firm Diller Scolfidio + Renfro was originally slated to open at the end of this year.

Smithsonian Undersecretary, Richard Kurin, says half of the funds needed for construction have been raised. However, the project won’t move forward without full funding.

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