The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles, CA
September 10 – January 15, 2017
Throughout the sprawling, cavernous gallery spaces of downtown LA’s Geffen MOCA, the haunting doo-wop coos of “I Only Have Eyes for You” follow viewers everywhere. Even in soundproofed rooms, the song permeates the experience of Doug Aitken’s massive survey exhibition Electric Earth, the first major mid-career retrospective the artist has received in North America.
The Depression-era song, made most famous by the Flamingos’ 1959 recording, and covered by countless artists ever since, is here covered again and again by various voices and in different renditions and settings in Song 1 (including an appearance by Tilda Swinton). The multi-channel video installation defies concepts of beginning and end, repeating its 35-minute loop as the viewers make their way around the periphery of the museum space, constantly returning to the song and Song 1’s imagery. The piece encompasses many of the motifs that recur through Aitken’s work: provocative urban environments, over-the-top presentations, disruption of linear narrative, aural and visual rhythmic patterns, juxtaposition of narrative cinema with non-narrative abstractions and voiceovers, and that certain California-bred preoccupation with celebrity (Chloë Sevigny, Beck, and Devendra Banhart all crop up here).
Electric Earth contains seven of the artist’s large-scale video installations, each installed with impeccable finesse, attention to scale, and adamant disregard for expense or propriety (for Sonic Fountain II, the artist dug through the concrete floor of the Geffen to create a milky white pool surrounded by piles of rock and earth). Interspersed are textual wall sculptures—mirrored or neon-bedecked blocks reading “SUNSET” or “100YRS”—and various other examples of the artist’s prolific work in photography, sculpture, collage, and documentation of architectural projects (including his own Venice home). Throughout, Aitken works with familiar cultural fragments to create disjunctions: sometimes poetic, sometimes provocative, and sometimes florid.