Artist Doug Aitken to create video for Hirshhorn Museum's exterior

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Artist Doug Aitken got his first look at the Hirshhorn Museum's building during his recent visits to Washington, where he had never been before, and was less than impressed by the museum's forbidding architecture. It seems he hasn't quite bought into the brutalist revival that some of us critics have been touting. (Some aesthetes have even been finding a certain appeal in the massed concrete of the FBI headquarters; others opposed plans to demolish the wonderfully sculptural concrete of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, just north of the White House.)

Rather than calling for a wrecking ball, Aitken has come up with a temporary antidote to the bulk of the Hirshhorn's cylindrical structure: He's suggested projecting a single work of video art onto the entire 360-degree span of the building's exterior -- 722 running feet of smooth and blank concrete. The first time he emerged from a cab in front of the Hirshhorn, he says, "I had this vision of it transforming, and coming to life."

Hirshhorn curators have bought into the idea, and technical tests have begun. Under Aitken's hands, sometime in the next couple of years the Hirshhorn's solid surface should dissolve into a view of . . . something. The video's content hasn't been worked out yet: It could be anything from the melding images of a slide show to some cryptic narrative. What's sure to happen is that one of the city's most solid and imposing structures will be replaced, at least for a few weeks, by a view into an imaginary world beyond.

-- Blake Gopnik

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