Doug Aitken: Underwater Pavilions

To understand the beauty and complexity of the oceans, dive deeper. In partnership with Parley and MOCA, Doug Aitken plans three underwater, explorable sculptures to bring a living dialogue to marine conservation.



Underwater Pavilions engages the living ocean ecosystem as the viewer swims into and through the sculptures, which create huge reflective abstractions. The work operates as an observatory for ocean life to provide a variety of converging perceptual encounters. The sculptures will be suspended about 5, 10, and 50 feet below the surface and continuously change due to the natural and manmade conditions of the ocean, creating a living presence and unique relationship with the viewer. 

Both aesthetic and scientific, Underwater Pavilions puts the local marine environment and the global challenges around ocean conservation in dialogue with the history of art, inviting the viewer to write a contemporary narrative of the ocean and to participate in its protection. 

Doug Aitken Workshop, Parley, and MOCA will premiere the submerged installation with a series of Parley Talks and events during The New Ocean Happening in winter 2017.

Underwater Pavilions, artist Doug Aitken’s most recent large-scale installation, will be installed this fall off the coast of Southern California on Catalina Island, 22 miles from Los Angeles. Produced by Parley and presented in partnership with The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), the work consists of three temporary underwater sculptures floating beneath the ocean’s surface that swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers can swim through and experience.

Geometric in design, the sculptures create underwater spaces synthesizing art and science as they are constructed with carefully researched materials and moored to the ocean floor. Part of each sculpture is mirrored to reflect the underwater seascape and create a kaleidoscopic observatory for the viewer, while other surfaces are rough and rock-like. The environments created in and by the sculptures will constantly change with the currents and the time of day, focusing the attention of the viewer on the rhythm of the ocean and its life cycles. 



“When we talk about the oceans and we look at the radical disruption we’ve created within the sea, we’re not quite aware yet how much that’s going to affect us and our lives on land. The ramifications of that are immense. This is one thing which cannot be exaggerated.”

Doug Aitken



Catalina Island is a one-hour ferry ride from several major ports and was selected as the location for this earthwork in light of its historical and ecological importance, the beauty of its landscape, and its close proximity to Los Angeles. With its clear waters teeming with flying fish and bright orange Garibaldi, alongside nearby shipwrecks, the location makes for spectacular diving and snorkeling.

A major survey of Doug Aitken’s work is now open at MOCA. Presented in conjunction with this exhibition, the Underwater Pavilions will be a point of convergence for art, education, and culture within California. 

Launched in tandem with the exhibition Doug Aitken: Electric Earth at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Underwater Pavilions will be a cultural destination that is free and open to the public in the Casino Point Dive Park in the City of Avalon.

The nearby Catalina Casino will also be activated for the New Ocean Happening, a special weekend event directed by Aitken and Parley that will include screenings, talks, and live performances, all geared toward bringing attention to critical issues in ocean conservation.




“We are at war with the oceans. If we win, we lose it all. Art has the power to direct all eyes on the oceans, in the oceans, and make its protection a creative collaboration.”  

Cyrill Gutsch, Founder, Parley for the Oceans





Doug Aitken (b. 1968) is an American artist and filmmaker whose work explores every medium, from sculpture, film, and installation to architectural intervention. His work has been featured in exhibitions around the world at institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, Vienna Secession, the Serpentine Gallery in London, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Aitken earned the International Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1999 for the installation electric earth. He also received the 2012 Nam June Paik Art Center Prize and the 2013 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award: Visual Arts. He lives and works in Los Angeles, California.


Catalina Casino, Avalon, California

The New Ocean Happening, directed by Doug Aitken and Cyrill Gutsch, brings together creative pioneers and environmental visionaries to focus on the critical issues of our time and concerns for our oceans. Unfolding against the backdrop of the City of Avalon on Catalina Island, within the stunning architecture of the Catalina Casino built in 1929, Parley for the Oceans invites to this high-energy, cross-disciplinary event respected artists, scientists, explorers, and musicians to start a living dialogue about the oceans: its meaning, future, and current state. Via live stream, the conversations and encounters they generate will be shared with a global audience, creating a cultural and ecological convergence driven by the goal of ocean preservation.


Image credit: Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, three underwater, geometric submersible environments with composite materials, mirror, and live video feed, courtesy of Doug Aitken Workshop, Parley for the Oceans, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angles; image by Conner MacPhee