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    Third Floor

Third Floor

Note: If you take the escalator to the third floor, look to the ceiling for Spencer Finch’s Cloud (H2O) from 2006. Finch's works are known for their attempts to convey transient light and color, so the Hirshhorn staff are geniuses for putting this above the escalator. Notice how the wide plane of light is compressed into a smaller space as you approach the 3rd floor landing. Also walk around the landing to see how the lights' shape and intensity shifts with you.

Here's what should be on display:

Janine Antoni Lick and Lather (1994) – Two busts of the same human head and shoulders, one made of chocolate and one of soap. The artist sculpted part of the chocolate head by biting, licking, and gnawing at it, and the soap one by bathing with it. (We humbly suggest the next one be called "Two Doves.")

Mary Bauermeister In Memory of Your Feelings, or Hommage à Jasper Johns (1964) – Bauermeister used "found objects"– a case of glass lenses here – in her work. Why? The use of pre-made objects, assembled by the artist according to their mood, was supposed to challenge the conventional idea of "what art is."

Alighiero e Boetti Untitled (1994) - Boetti's best-known works are a set of intricate, embroidered geographic maps, from the early 1970ǯs to the early 1990's, and made by artists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This watercolor on paper isn't a map, but is a good representation of his style, and it's probably not a coincidence that it looks like a rug that might have been woven in that region.

Louise Bourgeoise The Blind Leading the Blind (1949)– Bourgeoise is better known for her sculptures of giant spiders (there's one across the street at the National Gallery's sculpture garden), but this is an interesting piece with an only slightly less disturbing background story. As Bourgeoise recounts it, one day when she was a child, she was playing under her family's kitchen table while her parents were preparing lunch. That apparently brought up a host of questions in her young mind, such as "What are they doing?", "What is their purpose?" and "How do I relate to them?"– thoughts for which we'd prescribe medication if expressed today.

A straightforward interpretation of this piece, which Bourgeoise endorsed, is that it's a view of the legs of each person in her family, and the table, from her spot under the table; the legs don't all fall over because they (the family members) support each other. Others have interpreted it in ways ranging from the lockstep conformity of 1950's McCarthy-era politics, to the rejection of patriarchal society.

Constantin Brancusi Torso of a Young Man (1924) – Brancusi is one of the most significant artists in the Modernism movement, and this is an excellent piece done during his peak creative period. Torso of a Young Man emphasizes the geometric shape of the torso and thighs while eliminating secondary characteristics you'd see in representational sculpture, such as bone, muscle, and skin. That reduction clarifies the shape so that it's both new and recognizable.

Reg Butler Family Group (1948) – Approach this work from a couple different angles and heights to see the "family,' and you'll be rewarded with a clever, abstract view. A second work by Butler – Musee Imaginaire – is also on display on this floor.

Cai Guo-Quiang Tide Watching on West Lake: Project for China Academy of Art (2003 )– Guo-Quiang ignites gunpowder on paper to produce these works, as a statement on the control the Chinese government exerts on its citizens. Later works have moved from gunpowder to full-on explosions as performance pieces. We can definitely see this as art.

Alexander Calder Mobile (1958) – By law, every contemporary art gallery must include at least one Calder mobile. If you're a fan, there are several more over at the National Gallery of Art. Calder's Two Discs sculpture has a prominent spot in the Hirshhorn's plaza, too.

Nick Cave Soundsuit (2009) – Nick Cave is famous for these intricate, colorful dance costumes, made of everything from plant fibers to human hair. They're often displayed in museums, but also used in theater productions and possibly as Nicki Manaj loungewear. We're not sure. PBS has a short video of them in motion over on YouTube.

Christo Store Front (1964) – Christo was famous for huge, temporary, outdoor art installations; he once wrapped eleven small islands off the coast of Miami in 6.5 million square feet of pink fabric, for two weeks. In another, he installed 2,100 blue and yellow umbrellas, each 19 feet tall and 25 feet across, in Japan and California.

Compared to those, Store Front is small and subdued. It's been described as either as a commentary on mass-merchandising, or a tribute to the architecture of urban retailers and the cities around them.

Joseph Cornell Untitled (Aviary with Yellow Birds) (1948) - Cornell was one of the founders of assemblage, arranging existing or "found" objects into visual commentary, or as a reminder of a specific place or time. In this case, Cornell has put these birds and the tree they fly to into a box, sort of like a zoo puts nature on display.

Besides this, Cornell has several other pieces on display on this floor.

Hanne Darboven 27K-No8-No26 (1969) – It's a huge piece, more than 15 feet long, and consists of uniform sheets of print, seemingly taken from various technical manuals and assembled into a rectangle. The individual pages contain complex charts, formulas, and tables, and don't seem to relate to one another. Perhaps this is a late 60's observation on how specialized and complex life was becoming?

Robert Delaunay Untitled (1937) – Delaunay, a painter, was one of the founders of Orphism, an art technique that emphasized bright colors and abstract shapes that links Cubism to the Abstract movement. This is a bronze sculpture that still shows an emphasis on abstract shape.

Lucien Freud Nude with Leg Up (Leigh Bowery) (1992) – If you've toured the National Gallery of Art, you probably think of portraiture in terms of formal clothes and poses, and done in a style that compliments the subject. Freud's approach was the exact opposite. His portraits were designed to be uncomfortable to look at, and often used a limited color palette of yellows and browns (he also really liked painting nudes, so maybe the subjects dictated the colors).

Alfred Jensen The Sun Rises Twice (Per I, Per II, Per III, Per IV) (1973) – This is typical of Jensen's work - a set of calendars, astrological charts, and other artifacts used to measure time, executed in excruciating detail. It's the kind of thing that ends up in a museum, or shown on the wall at the beginning of a C.S.I. episode.

Jasper Johns Untitled (1954) – Still living as we went to press, Johns is one of the most recognized and influential artists of the past 50 years (even appearing in an episode of The Simpsons as himself). He's known for using popular images such as the U.S. map and flag. This isn't one of his more popular works, and doesn't seem to display the characteristics for which he's known.

Anish Kapoor At the Hub of Things (1987) - Kapoor was trying to capture the characteristics of "void" when he did this, and we think he succeeded. The piece, roughly the shape of an egg, is done in a deep Prussian blue that seems to absorb light. It's mesmerizing.

Ellsworth Kelly White Relief over Dark Blue (2002) – This is one of Kelly's later works, done in his late 70's, but exhibits many hallmarks of the style he's developed over the last 50 years. Kelly is known for crisp lines between colors, and the emphasis on basic shapes and colors. The typical Kelly painting would not look out of place as an icon on your iPhone or as the logo for some new Internet company. That is, even though he's been producing these for years, they're arguably more in-style and modern now than at any time before.

An untitled, stainless steel sculpture of Kelly's is outside in the garden.

Anselm Kiefer The Book (1985) – Another huge painting, this one taking an entire wall, in which Kiefer has made a darkened ocean and beach. In the middle of the scene is an unnamed, unidentified book, placed above the scene, directly in front of the viewer. Most of Kiefer's work is supposed to relate to German history, especially World War II or the Cold War, but we're not sure of the connection here.

Sol LeWitt 13/11 (1985) – LeWitt was one of the founders of Minimalism, an art movement that, as its name implies, sought to remove from each work any extraneous shapes, colors, or characteristics. This pyramid sculpture is a good example of his output.

Morris Louis Point of Tranquility (1960)– Morris "painted" this piece by pouring a small amount of each paint color into the middle of the canvas, then tilted the canvas so that the paint ran to the edge. The result resembles a flower, which led to Louis naming this series of works Floral. Louis would go on to do similar works, including Delta Theta, during the same period.

Brice Marden Cold Mountain 2 (1991) – It's from Marden's later work, inspired by Chinese calligraphy and done on a large scale. You might see human forms, trees, or fog-bound landscapes in this, possibly a response to Marden's travel in Asia in the early 1980's.

Agnes Martin Garden (1964) and Play (1966) – These are two good examples of Martin's minimalist work, which typically feature straight, lightly-drawn, colored pencil lines on largely monochromatic backgrounds.

Joan Mitchell Cercando un Ago (1959) – One of a series of similarly named and executed works from Mitchell's early career, this is an example of abstract expressionism, the same style as Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. Like works from those artists, the point of Cercando un Ago isn't to tell a story or replicate a scene – it's to convey emotion.

Bruce Nauman South America Triangle (1981) – A colossal work of iron and steel, suspended from the third floor ceiling, Nauman was inspired to create this piece after hearing a story of torture and imprisonment in Argentina. In this work the chair represents the tortured.

Robert Rauschenberg Dam (1959)– Part of Rauschenbergǯs DzCombinesdz work from 1954 to 1962, this supposedly contains Dzcoded messagesdz to the (then underground) gay community of New York. As far as we've been able to research, though, no one has yet put forth a definitive meaning to any of these words or symbols – the work's meaning seems to have died with Rauschenberg.

We suppose this could be interpreted two ways: First, that the act of displaying the painting is now an art performance itself, celebrating not needing to display "coded messages" to an underground gay community; or second, an open question as to whether there's a difference between undecipherable code – that is, a message that has permanently lost its meaning – and random gibberish.

George Rickey Marsh Plant (1962)– Rickey is known for his kinetic sculptures, and his works display a simple, slender balance. Amazingly, a few of his pieces are still within the budget of a middle-income collector.

David Smith Agricola I (1952) – It's a series of farm tools welded together to look (roughly) like a farmer, then painted red. The most popular interpretation is that the modern farmer depends so much on his tools, it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Besides this, three other similar Smith sculptures are present in the Garden.

Hiroshi Sugimoto Akron Civic, Ohio (1980) – Sugimoto visited cinemas across the U.S. to do a series of these images. In each, he exposed a single film slide for the duration of a full-length film playing in the theater. This one is from Akron, Ohio.

Paul Thek Warrior's Leg (1967) – It's a copy of a Roman soldier's leg, amputated just below the knee. But the main thing to know was that it was unveiled during the Vietnam War. In that respect, it's similar to Bourdelle's Great Warrior of Montaubanin commenting on the true cost of conflict.

Cy Twombly Untitled (Roma) (1959) – Twombly was far better known as a painter, and actually stopped sculpting for 17 years shortly after this piece was done. But this piece, assembled from materials Twombly found, vertical orientation, and painted monochromatically, is good example of his work in the 1950's.

Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe's Lips (1962)– Ostensibly this piece - a mechanical reproduction of Monroe's lips 168 times, arranged in a rectangle and writ large – is an observation that over-commercialization damages anything special that we hold dear.

Other Lands at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (a Smithsonian Museum)