Doug Aitken: New Era at the MCA

Wed 20th October, 2021 – Sun 6th February, 2022
10:00am – 5:00pm
Museum of Contemporary Art
140 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney
Price: $28
Horses and owls reside in nondescript US hotel rooms, a crater of milky water emerges from the gallery floor and a series of sculptural objects are sunk below the ocean’s surface in this large-scale, immersive survey of the contemporary artist’s 25-year career.

Doug Aitken’s New Era seems almost custom-made to welcome visitors back to the Museum of Contemporary Art after a period of enforced isolation.

New Era is a survey of the internationally acclaimed, Los Angeles-based contemporary artist’s work, curated by the MCA’s outgoing chief curator Rachel Kent as part of the 2021/2022 Sydney International Art Series.

Aitken’s work has been exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Serpentine Galleries in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. But he also regularly takes his practice outside the four walls of a gallery, creating what he refers to as “interventions” within the natural landscape and underneath the ocean’s surface (Aitken is a keen surfer).

The multi-award-winning artist’s work ranges from installations to photographs, objects and vast, immersive multi-screen environments, and is intended to transport viewers to other worlds and realms.

For New Era Aitken worked closely with Kent on a large-scale exhibition, spanning 25 years of his career, that has been tailored to Sydney and the MCA itself.

Aitken references his 2013 work Sonic Fountain II, a key part of the MCA exhibition. It resembles a large lunar landscape within which a vast circular crater of milky water arises from the gallery floor. Meanwhile, a series of grid-like pipes in the ceiling controls drips, sploshes and ever-increasing jets of water that hit the pool below, slowly getting louder and louder until the noise resembles a drum solo.

Another work Aitken has chosen with Sydneysiders in mind is his 2016 Underwater Pavilions, which reflects his ongoing interest in the ocean and marine conservation. A series of sculptural objects, or “underwater pavilions”, lies submerged in the Gulf of Catalina off the coast of Los Angeles, and while people can dive down and see the pavilions in California, here they’re presented as a large three-screen installation. The works question the definition of art and how we engage with it.

Other highlights include migration (empire), a three-channel video installation Aitken began in 2007 during a series of road trips across the US, where he stayed in derivative US motels and replaced humans with wild animals – American bison, horses and owls – literally putting them into the rooms and filming them as they interacted with the space.

The work that lends its name to the exhibition itself, NEW ERA, is a large, immersive mirrored multi-screen installation that tells visitors the story of Martin Cooper, the 89-year-old engineer who built the first mobile phone and made the first mobile call in history. Aitken’s works regularly feature light and reflection, nature, ocean and immersion alongside sound, repetition and musicality.

Adult tickets cost $28 each. Members and children under 12 enter free.

From 10am to 5pm. Closed on Mondays.

More information here.