The exterior of the Hirshhorn — a circular cement fortress — could hardly be described as cinematic. But on Thursday night, the entire exterior of the Gordon Bunshaft-designed museum will be awash in the glow of projection lights, providing the surface for an exciting new piece of public art: Doug Aitken’s “SONG 1.”

Want to see Aitken’s “liquid architecture,” as he calls it? Here’s what you should know:

View Photo Gallery: After two years of discussion and planning, Doug Aitken’s “SONG 1” multimedia spectacle is being projected onto all sides of Washington’s modernist museum.

The debut: “SONG 1” debuts Thursday at the Hirshhorn at sundown, and will be repeated until midnight every night through May 13. The film lasts about 45 minutes. Because it’s on the outside of the building, the event is free, and there is no seating.

How does it work? Eleven projectors embedded in boxes the size of washing machines surrounding the museum will seamlessly project the film on the building’s exterior. According to the Hirshhorn, the film is the first-ever work of 360-degree convex-screen cinema.


Click the image to view a graphic about the making of “Song 1.”

What is the film about, anyway? “SONG 1” is series of covers of the 1934 song “I Only Have Eyes for You.” He commissioned “probably 30 or 40” new versions of the song by musician friends who included Beck, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Devendra Banhart, No Age and Lucky Dragons, reported Roger Catlin in our Sunday feature about the work. The actress Tilda Swinton will also be featured in the film. The versions will mix and blend into one another as the visuals change on the screen. Hirshhorn deputy director and chief curator Kerry Brougher says the song “means different things to different generations. It cuts across time and cuts across space. We all bring a shared memory to the piece.”

What’s the best way to watch it? Move around the building. You won’t be able to see the film in its entirety unless you walk around the exterior to take in new perspectives — and even then, you might have to come back multiple times if you want to see everything.

What if I’m not in D.C.? You can watch our video below, or the other videos that spectators are likely to take — but other than that, you’re out of luck. The work is a site-specific commission for the Hirshhorn, and will not be repeated after May 13, or appear anywhere else.

What if I want to learn more? Aitken will be speaking at the Hirshhorn’s James T. Demetrion lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis, with tickets distributed at 6:30. Guests are encouraged to line up early, as the tickets are expected to go quickly. If you can’t make it to the lecture, read Catlin’s story for more insight from Aitken. Plus, come back to The Post’s Style section Friday for a review from art critic Phil Kennicott.