Monday, March 22, 2010

The True Story behind the Hirschhorn Museum's Contest to Create Art from a Single Sheet of Paper

In February 2008 a friend sent me a message with some wonderful images of paper-cutting sculptures.  Today, more than two years later, I received the same message, with the same jpgs.  Here's an example:

The message said:
> Entries for an sculpture art contest at the Hirshhorn
> Modern Art Gallery in DC.
> The artist could use only one sheet of paper.

Two years ago, as now, it seemed obvious that all these supposed contest entries were by the same person. That made me skeptical.  I looked at the Hirshhorn's website.  They had never had any such contest.  I checked Nothing. I forwarded the email to Snopes and meanwhile looked for more information.  A blog that perpetuated the Hirshhorn contest myth included the images, so I forwarded the link (and my skepticism) to my usual recipients, rather than fill their inboxes with attachments.The blog page has disappeared or I'd give you the link here.

My friend Nancy 3. Hoffman was also curious, and she was more persistent and clever than I.  She discovered that these are the works of a Danish artist, Peter CALLESEN.  His wonderful website,, has many, many brilliantly creative and beautiful examples of his paper cutting art.

Snopes has never covered the story.  I guess that the lack of proper attribution for an artist's work, and the incorrect reference to a nonexistent contest at a  fine art museum, do not rise to the level of internet urban legend for them. Hence this post.

Maybe some day the Hirshhorn will hold an exhibit of Callesen's works. It hasn't yet, but maybe it should, so that this highly-circulated message will have -- retroactively -- a grain of truth.


  1. Roberta,

    THANK YOU for shedding some light on this for me! I am a paper sculptor who received an email similar to the one you must have received, sent by a friend who merely passed it on because she knew I'd be interested (yes, this email is still circulating in 2012).

    I wanted to mention the sculptor or sculptors on my own blog, but like you I wanted to do some research first.

    I sure am glad I did. I really appreciate the attempt you made to alert (as far as I can tell, they still don't have anything on this) and track down the true artist behind this fascinating work.

    I plan to quote you (also to include a link to this post). If you'd like to see it, go to and look for the post for August 9 or 10 (depending on how late I have to stay up to finish it!).

    Thanks again!

  2. It persists even into August 2013;I just got the same email from my drafting friends. Here's the the link:

    1. Thanks for the update and sorry it took until now for me to moderate it.
      I wonder if the one-sheet email holds the record for persistence, at least in the subcategory Not True? But maybe all the persistent ones are Not True!