Doug Aitken had made multimedia spectacles out of modern landscapes before. His mesmerizing images of solitary lives playing across the glass of the Museum of Modern Art exterior created a singular urban mood, experienced by thousands of passersby. A more recent piece playing on screens on dark, slow-moving barges in the Aegean Sea was seen by far fewer.
When Kerry Brougher, the Hirshhorn Museum’s deputy director and chief curator, saw the 1999 Aitken installation that won him the International Prize at the Venice Biennale, he invited him to do a piece in Washington.
“He stepped out the taxi and looked up at the building and said, ‘This is the world’s greatest screen,’ ” Brougher recalls.
“I really had this visceral response to it, ” Aitken says of the Hirshhorn’s famous round building on stilts.
“I was impressed by its enormity. I thought it was just a fascinating architectural structure. It’s very rare to find a continuous curved plane like that.”
He knew at that moment that “the museum itself should really become a work. It felt like there could be a way possibly to activate it,” he says.
After two years of discussion and planning by the 44-year-old California artist, “SONG 1” will be projected onto all sides of Gordon Bunshaft’s striking modernist cylinder beginning Thursday at sunset and running from dusk to midnight through May 13.