NEW YORK — This morning at 303 Gallery, three men in black shirts and jeans were busy tearing up the space in a peculiarly delicate way. One climbed onto a pile of ripped-out drywall and gently ran the flat side of a handsaw against the rubble, creating a soft humming sound. Another knocked a piece of metal rhythmically against the concrete floor, while a third did nothing but zip around on a motorized scissor-lift. This orgy of destruction sounded oddly resonant — uplifting even.
The men tearing down 303's white walls in careful strips were, in fact, percussionists hired by the artist Doug Aitken, who is known for his slick, massive sound and video environments. Their tear-down was part of Aitken’s “100 YRS, Part 2” a “destruction installation” from April 2-6 that stands as the second part of his exhibition “100 YRS” (the first part of which was a more traditional show that just closed at the gallery). It also happens to coincide with a scheduled demolition of the space — 303 Gallery will be moving to its new location on 24th street at the end of April. Some of the sculptures from the first part of the show are still on site, like the “Sonic Fountain” — a milky white pool of water set in a crater in the gallery floor, designed to make plinking sounds as water drips into it from several pipes above.
“As there’s less and less of the gallery, the soundscape evolves,” Aitken explained today. The soft-spoken L.A. artist’s quiet demeanor belies the active destruction around him. When we stopped by, he had been squatting behind a camera on a tripod recording the demolition. “Different materials are exposed — whether it’s going beyond the sheetrock to the studs or it’s certain kinds of tools. I wanted to tap into those polyrhythms.”
The interplay of sounds and architecture is a recurring fascination for Aitken who once wrapped the façade of the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. with a 360-degree video installation while immersing the immediate surroundings in a sonic installation inspired by the doo wop ballad “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Destruction and entropy are also themes often explored in his work.
But “100 YRS, Part 2” — the current happening at 303 Gallery — was intended to be more of a surprise, a sonic universe that passersby would stumble across, causing them to question the nature of an exhibition and the role of the gallery, an uncertainty that Aitken relishes. “Is it a space that’s being demolished or rebuilt?” said Aitken. “Is it a space that’s being prepared? Is it a space that’s welcoming the viewer or is it closed to the public?”
There's no question, however, that the public is invited tomorrow between 6 and 8 pm, for the finale — which promises a crescendo of hammers, saws, and drills — as Aitken and 303 Gallery pay their last respects to the space.
To see photos of "100 YRS, Part 2," click on the slideshow.