Exploring the Hirshhorn's "SONG 1" exhibit

Doug Aitken's latest piece cascades across the Hirshhorn Museum's 82-feet tall and 725-foot wide circumference, as the "first-ever work of 360-degree convex-screen cinema" of this scale. To make it all happen, trees were trimmed, street lights got anti-glare covers, and the Federal Aviation Administration was consulted to make sure the exhibit wouldn't disrupt aircraft landings. But the work didn't stop there:

Watch the exhibit

Click to see 'SONG 1' and hear Aitken explain the choreography of sound and light.

Hirshhorn facade becomes multimedia spectacle

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Splitting the image

Laid out flat, "SONG 1" is a moving image 13,444 pixels wide. To create a 360-degree display, a computer program cut the image into eleven, overlapping sections, one for each projector. A total 41,500 feet of fiber-optic cables then carry those images from four server computers in the Hirshhorn’s basement to the projectors mounted on the perimeter wall.

Avoiding obstacles

Giving eleven projectors each a clear shot of the Hirshhorn meant avoiding the museum's many trees and two large outside sculptures: the Snelson Needle Tower and the Lichtenstein Brushstroke, and it came at a cost. Projectors must be at different angles, and cannot be equidistant from each other. So even after all the computer calculations, the final images were mapped using a grid, and a programmer manually matched overlapping sections, block-by-block.


Eleven 160-pound digital projectors power the exhibit. Each has a brightness of 20,000 lumens. Most normal office projectors go up to 3,000 lumens.


Weather-proof enclosures protect the projectors. They are equipped with heaters that are triggered when temperatures drop to 40 degrees. Eight high-velocity fans run in concert with the projectors, and circulate large volumes of air throughout the unit to prevent overheating.

SOURCE: Al Masino, director of exhibitions, Hirshhorn; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Christie Digital.
VIDEO: Ben de la Cruz - The Washington Post. GRAPHIC: Alberto Cuadra and Sisi Wei - The Washington Post. Published March 22, 2012.


Hirshhorn Museum becomes its art.

Artist Doug Aiken’s “SONG 1” transforms the modernist museum into “world’s greatest screen.”

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