The Smithsonian museums may be associated with the institutional formality of its Beaux-Arts style buildings, not to mention its faux-Norman castle, but there is another Smithsonian. A Smithsonian that is en vogue and hip, even a little bit bawdy. A Smithsonian that revels in campy fun and wild excess.
The fun emanates from the stark, cylindrical museum of contemporary and modern art, known as the Hirshhorn. And it takes place in the evening hours after the museum closes to the public and reopens as a hot nightspot, selling tickets to a crowd of art lovers and club crawlers. The Hirshhorn, which has celebrated the abstract and embraced the modern since it opened in 1971, clashes magnificently with its Beaux-Arts neighbors.
"After Hours," the three-times-a-year event at the Hirshhorn has become wildly popular. Since 2007, the museum has given venue to underground and avante-garde local artists, allowing itself to be turned into not only a night club, but a club where the art on the walls is the real deal.
Last Friday, performance artist Shea Van Dorn Horn was the latest to take over the Hirshhorn with his cadre of bohemians: DJs Matt Bailer and Bil Todd (who both spin with Van Horn elsewhere), the collaborative theater group CRACK, and a harem of drag queens (Van Horn himself doubling as the ever-illustrious queen, "Summer Camp").
Camp didn’t disappoint.
“Oh my God we’re in a giant donut!” Camp crowed as she hurled actual donuts at the enormous crowd that had gathered in the museum's courtyard from a bright yellow rickshaw that was carting her around the Hirshhorn fountain, followed by her “Hirshhorn cheerleaders.” Camp, who emceed the latter half of the show, had told MetroWeekly’s Doug Rule that the event would be “gayer” than ever before. Indeed, the show included performances from CRACK and low-budget films—one video depicted Summer Camp being chased through the museum by Smithsonian guards.
Hipsters, party boys, party girls, interns, young professionals, art fanatics, students, unemployed post-grads, D.C.’s youth were out in force. The 2,000-plus crowd poured through the museum's exhibitions (the galleries were open late until 10), they squinted particularly hard at Yves Klein’s blue monochromes, in the much-acclaimed exhibit, "With the Void, Full Powers." The Washington Post's art critic Blake Gopnik has now twice reviewed the Klein exhibition, singing its praises. The crowd chattered and pointed and discussed Klein's fire paintings and "air architecture."
And then they danced. Oh, did they dance.
As revelers moved from the galleries down to the dance floor, the harried bartenders poured out specialty drinks, including a special “summer fling” involving ginger, rosemary and vodka. From La Roux’s “Bulletproof” and all the club hits of the moment, to an updated remix of “You’re The One That I Want” from the musical "Grease," the music and the dancing and the drinks and the art trove drove the over-21-year-old crowd into a happy place.
But, then the clock struck midnight. The show was over and 2,000 young D.C. gadabouts were herded onto Independence Avenue.
For more photos of the event, check out our photo gallery.
There’s one more After Hours this year, date to be determined. Check-in regularly with the Hirshhorn for updates and get your tickets early, this show sells out fast.