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In Washington, D.C., a Museum Gets a Cinematic Makeover

25% drive-in movie 25% video art 50% inside-out

This spring, millions of people strolling at night near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. will be able to see a museum turned inside-out. The Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is giving its trademark circular cement exterior a glowing, 360-degree makeover this spring.

Between March 22 and May 13, from sundown to midnight, artist Doug Aitken’s "SONG 1" installation will use 11 high-definition video projectors to seamlessly blend moving images around the entire building to the tune of the pop song “I Only Have Eyes for You.” The film will include more than 15 covers of the song from a diverse group of artists including Beck and The Flamingos. 

According to Hirshhorn deputy director and chief curator Kerry Brougher, "SONG 1" toys with the concept of "liquid architecture"—a constant shifting that transforms museum architect Gordon Bunshaft's heavy, cement mass into a light, ethereal work of art. The public installation is designed to challenge the boundaries of architecture and redefine the concepts of cinematic and urban space. 

Aitken’s project is the first-ever work of 360-degree cinema to be presented in a continuous, cylindrical format. Its sequences will be presented in myriad ways: sometimes seamless, other times in pieces, reflected from each other, or in a cubist style. The multimedia presentation separates itself from traditional movies, Brougher says, because it is a public, interactive piece. Rather than the screen creating a stagnant space for viewers to sit still and enter the fictional world presented, the outdoor exhibition becomes a part of the urban environment and demands audience participation, requiring the viewer to move around the building to fully experience the installation.

"It’s not so much the building being used as a cinema screen; the architecture itself is being turned into music and given a tempo which has been derived from the architecture, flowing out through images and sound into the spaces around the museum," Brougher says. "This may be one of the most major uses of architecture as cinema. It’s architecture, cinema, music, public art—all together into one piece.”

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