Doug Aitken: New Era

Doug-Aitken-migration-(empire)American artist Doug Aitken’s first major solo exhibition in the southern hemisphere, Doug Aitken: New Era, opens tomorrow 20 October at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), as part of the 2021-22 Sydney International Art Series.

Exclusive to Sydney, this comprehensive survey exhibition brings together key works from the late 1990s to recent multi-screen video installations.

American artist Doug Aitken is internationally recognised for his ambitious practice that encompasses installations, sculptures, photographs and vast, multi-screen environments that envelop viewers within a kaleidoscope of moving imagery and sound.

Based in Los Angeles, he has realised numerous museum projects around the world, as well as live events in collaboration with musicians and performers, and site-specific works within the natural landscape and below the ocean’s surface.

“The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is delighted to be presenting the first solo exhibition of Doug Aitken’s work in Australia, as part of the 2021- 2021 Sydney International Art Series,” said MCA Director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE. “Doug Aitken is one of the world’s most influential and engaging contemporary artists.

“I have no doubt that the experience of becoming immersed in his world of spectacular videos, sculptures and installations is just what people are looking for as we emerge from the difficulties of life in lockdown. I can think of no better way to signal that the MCA, and Sydney, are well and truly open for a New Era!”

Doug Aitken: New Era is a comprehensive survey exhibition spanning more than two decades of the renowned artist’s practice.

The exhibition brings together key works from the late-1990s through to the present, including multi-screen video installations, large-scale sculptures, a major sound environment, photographic installation, and a display of significant site-specific and performative projects.

Curated by Rachel Kent, former MCA Chief Curator and now Chief Executive Officer, Bundanon Trust NSW, the exhibition transforms the MCA’s Level 3 galleries into an immersive and multi-sensory environment.

Rachel Kent, who has worked in close collaboration with the artist on all aspects of the exhibition, said: “Doug Aitken is an artist of international renown whose work immerses audiences within a constantly shifting world of light, sound, colour and reflection,” she said.

“Encompassing vast, multi-screen environments as well as sculpture and photography, his museum works are complemented by site-specific projects and live events that open up multiple ways to experience and engage with art.”

“Aitken’s works expand the definition of what art can be, positioning viewers as active participants in an environment that is fluid and dynamic. Landscape – real, virtual, nomadic, geological, psychological – is a recurring motif, while sound and musicality form a structural, temporal device for works on display,” said Ms Kent.

Exhibition highlights include Sonic Fountain II (2013/2015), a large sound installation built into a rocky landscape in the gallery. Drips and jets of water spill from a suspended ceiling grid onto a pool of water below, their sound amplified to create a rhythmic drumming that swells and recedes according to computer algorithms.

NEW ERA (2018) is an immersive hexagonal structure encompassing screens and mirrors that viewers enter into through a tunnel-like passageway. Inspired by the history of mobile phone technology and its pioneer, the American engineer Martin Cooper, NEW ERA considers the power of communications technology both to unite and dislocate us.

In migration (empire) (2008) the artist explores human-made repetition across the natural landscape. In this large-scale video installation viewers walk around and between three large billboard screens, which depict a series of vacant motels across North America that have become home to a group of migratory animals.

Underwater Pavilions (2017) is a three-channel video installation featuring a series of sculptures or ‘pavilions’ created by the artist in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, a non-profit environmental organisation.

Submerged underwater off the Californian coast, the geometric sculptures are living environments that reflect and refract light, opening a portal that physically connects the viewer to the expanse of the ocean.

Aitken’s interest in light, reflection and multiplication is extended through a series of sculptures that incorporate language and text, cut from mirror, or rendered in neon.

Suspended on the gallery wall or freestanding in space, works such as Untitled (sleeping body) (2020) and 100 YRS (neon) (2014), evoke a dizzying landscape that is alive with communication and transmission forces and bookend the past century from Industrial to digital revolution.

New Era is an exhibition that spans many different mediums, places, locations and ideas,” said Doug Aitken. “We spent three years designing this exhibition for the MCA, Sydney and I wanted to activate the architecture in a different way, to turn the museum inside-out for the viewer.

“I see the experience of the exhibition as being authored by the viewer – what they see, how they see it, and how they piece together their own story and their own narrative within the space is up to them.”

“The exhibition New Era at the MCA speaks to our future, it is a landscape of ideas, a place where the viewer can step into, explore and hopefully leave transformed with a new perspective,” said Aitken.

Born in 1968, Doug Aitken lives and works in Los Angeles, USA. His work has featured in exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Vienna Secession; the Serpentine Gallery, London and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

In 1999, the artist received the International Prize at the Venice Biennale for the installation Electric Earth. In 2012 he was awarded the Nam June Paik Art Center Prize, and in 2016 the Americans for the Arts National Arts Award: Outstanding Contributions to the Arts.

In 2017 he was the inaugural recipient of the Frontier Art Prize. Recent solo exhibitions include Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany (2015), Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, (2016) and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, USA (2017).

Doug Aitken: New Era
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 140 George Street, The Rocks (Sydney)
Exhibition: 20 October 2021 – 6 February 2022
Entry fees apply

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (still), image courtesy the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles © the artist