Richard Koshalek

Richard Koshalek, who left his job heading the Hirshhorn Museum, is returning to California. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Some bubbles are harder to burst than others. After a four-year run as director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Richard Koshalek says he is returning to California — and just might bring with him a version of the inflatable event space that he had championed in Washington, D.C.

Koshalek originally envisioned the Bubble, designed by Diller Scofidio & Renfro, as a pavilion for cultural programming that would be erected in the Hirshhorn courtyard two months every fall. But this week its parent institution, the Smithsonian, nixed plans to realize the innovative addition, citing lack of funding for the $12.5-million project.

Koshalek resigned last month when the writing was on the wall. His last day in the Hirshhorn's top job is June 29, and he returns to California — he still has a home in Pasadena — the first week of September.

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He is now floating the idea that he could bring a similar but less expensive pop-up space to major universities in Southern California or anywhere else in the country. He calls it a "Tech Tent" and describes it as a near-sister of the Bubble.

“The idea [for the Hirshhorn] was to have a cultural think tank for the arts in Washington, D.C., which has 500 think tanks dealing with science, economics and politics but not one that deals with the arts and culture,” Koshalek said.

There has been interest from university presidents in developing a similar concept to foster public dialogue within the academic setting, he said, noting that the tent would also be "packed with information technology" to serve that community.

Although he has not firmed up an architect yet, he predicted that this idea would be easier to realize than the Bubble, which had to reach 15 stories to fit into existing Hirshhorn architecture. “It would be less expensive to build and to put up and take down — also  less expensive to run because half of the participants in programs are already there on university campuses."

Koshalek has deep roots in the L.A. area, prompting some reporters to conclude (incorrectly, he said) that the first Tech Tent would go up in Southern California. From 1999 until 2009, he served as the president of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. Previously, he was director of the Museum of Contemporary Art for nearly two decades, where he built a curatorial team that included Paul Schimmel and Ann Goldstein.

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And what about rumors that he might take on the job of MOCA director if current head Jeffrey Deitch steps down? He said he has had conversations with museum leaders about the beleaguered institution's next steps but would not discuss details.

“I don’t think I would return as director,” he added. “But if there’s the possibility that I could make a contribution in some other form, I would seriously consider it.”

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