Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Library supports the research and exhibition program of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It is the only library within Washington, DC dedicated solely to modern and contemporary art.

The library is located on the 4th floor of the museum at Independence Avenue, SW & 7th Street, SW in Washington, DC. Materials must be used onsite. The Library participates in interlibrary loan, the museum publication exchange program, and exhibition loans. Additional information on visiting the library can be found on the Using the HMSG Library page. 

HMSG Library Reading AreaThe HMSG Library Collections

The Hirshhorn Library houses more than 60,000 monographs, exhibition catalogs, catalogues raisonnés, serials, artists’ books, and 2,000 files of ephemeral materials. We cover the documentation and interpretation of major international participants, events, trends, and critical discourse of modern and contemporary painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, photography, video, film, installation, performance, and emerging art forms from 1880 to the present. The onsite collection particularly focuses on artists in the Hirshhorn's collection and on artists featured in the museum’s exhibition program. We also provide onsite access to Smithsonian Libraries’ rich electronic resources, including journal and auction indexes. Additional materials housed off-site at the Smithsonian Libraries Research Annex (SLRA) in Landover, MD may be delivered to the Hirshhorn Library with adequate advanced notice or consulted at SLRA by appointment. All holdings can be located through the Smithsonian Libraries’ Online Catalog (SIRIS).

Special Collections

HMSG Artist Files

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives Art and Artist Files are a particularly rich resource that include the materials often difficult to obtain in traditional library collections. The Hirshhorn Library houses more than 2,000 files on individual artists represented in the museum collection, as well as on select emerging artists. These files, collected since the late 1960s, may contain gallery announcements, invitations, post cards, press releases, exhibition check lists, price lists, news clippings, and the occasional artist’s multiple.

The Smithsonian Libraries Artists’ Books Collection includes artists’ books from many branches of the Smithsonian Libraries. Artists’ books are works of art, like paintings and sculptures, but in book form. The Hirshhorn Library maintains a small collection of artists’ books closely tied to the Hirshhorn Museum’s permanent collection. Browse the HMSG Artists’ Books Collection.

Most historical documents about the history of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture, Joseph and Olga Hirshhorn, and architect Gordon Bunshaft are housed at the Smithsonian Institution Archives Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden page. Contact the SI Archives Reference Desk for assistance. Museum object and exhibitions files are maintained by the museum's registrar office, as are rights and reproductions for museum images. Contact HMSGcollections@si.edu for assistance.

The Hirshhorn Museum Library's Audio Archive is a repository of 306 digital audio files reformatted from audio cassettes ranging in date from 1969 to 2004 containing event recordings and interviews dating back to the founding days of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, interviews of renowned modern and contemporary artists, lectures and symposium focusing on significant themes in 20th century art. An index of recordings and preview clips are available at the link above, and full digital files may be accessed onsite at the Hirshhorn Library. The original recordings are held by the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

History of the Hirshhorn Library

In the late 1930s, Congress started plans to establish a national museum of contemporary art to complement the National Gallery of Art, which primarily displayed the work of the OId Masters. However, the lingering effects of the Great Depression and the strain of World War II put those plans on hold. It wasn’t until the 1960s that then Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley revived the concept, seeing an opportunity to fulfill Congress’s original intention with the widely admired modern art collection of financier and philanthropist Joseph H. Hirshhorn. By 1966, an Act of Congress established the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and in 1974 it opened to wide acclaim. The Hirshhorn Library was founded in 1971 as part of Joseph Hirshhorn’s private collection. The library collection moved to the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1974 to support research into the museum objects, and has grown apace with the expansion of the museum’s collection. Since 2000, the library has been administered by Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, and remains committed to the museum’s mission of sharing the transformative power of modern and contemporary art with the widest possible audiences.

Complementary Collections

The HMSG Library is one of the five art libraries within the Smithsonian Libraries:

All Smithsonian art libraries collect in the area of contemporary art, but the HMSG collection exclusively focuses on international modern and contemporary art. Extensive holdings from the Hirshhorn Library have been transferred to the Smithsonian Libraries Research Annex (SLRA), which may be delivered to the Hirshhorn with adequate advanced notice or consulted at SLRA in Landover, MD.

Additional information on fine, graphic, and decorative art can be found at the following Smithsonian History and Culture Libraries:

As the HMSG Library supports the work of the conservators, educators, and visitor services staff in the museum, there is some overlap with the collection at the Museum Support Center Library.


Please see the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives' Gift-in-Kind Policy for information on donations. You can also support the library by Adopting a Book from the Hirshhorn Library.