Curtain wrap mockup

The Hirshhorn Museum Commissions Nicolas Party to Transform its Facade

The artist’s temporary mural, </i>Draw the Curtain</i>, will be on display while the exterior of the Washington, D.C., museum undergoes repairs.

Swiss artist Nicolas Party’s work has long engaged the built environment. Whether he’s extending his framed paintings onto a gallery’s walls, constructing architectural interventions within an exhibition space, or creating public murals or sculptures, Party has a way of enveloping viewers in unsettling soft pastel landscapes punctuated with the piercing gaze of anonymous figures.

Draw the Curtain, a new commission for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., is the artist’s—and the Hirshhorn’s—largest work to date. On view from September 18 through spring 2022, the temporary mural is printed on a giant scrim wrapping 360 degrees around the cylindrical, Gordon Bunshaft–designed museum while it undergoes facade repair. 

The idea for the piece was simple: Scaffolding is ugly, and the museum needed a way to cover it during construction. “Sometimes the process of revealing or hiding is the work itself,” said Party at a recent artist talk with Hirshhorn curator Anne Reeve. He noted that obstructing and revealing a subject has been employed as a device throughout art history, with the curtain as a common motif. 

exterior view of museum showing artwork wrap
Draw the Curtain covers the Hirshhorn Museum’s construction scaffolding with a colorful, 829-foot- wide mural. Party’s pastel- rendered faces—peeking from behind curtains and appearing to observe the viewer from any perspective—provoke an eerie feeling about what lies hidden behind them. © TONY POWELL

Starting with about 25 small pastel paintings on paper, the final piece was digitally collaged and printed on a scrim spanning a circumference of 829 feet. Its androgynous faces were inspired by classical sculpture; the colorful curtains were sampled from 17th century Dutch masters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt. An iconic red curtain is borrowed from Surrealist painter René Magritte, known for trompe l’oeil illusions and scenographic themes. In this vein, Draw the Curtain seems to be in direct conversation with the cylindrical, curtain wrapped clouds of Magritte’s 1960 painting The Memoirs of a Saint.

“At first it was daunting to create an artwork to cover a central building in the capital of the United States,” says Party. “Washington has many monuments that tell stories and represent ideologies. Draw the Curtain joins that conversation while also bringing attention to what these visible structures keep hidden.” 

Would you like to comment on this article? Send your thoughts to: [email protected]