For Architectural Digest, by John Gendall.
Perched on the edge of the Chino Cone, overlooking Palm Springs, lot lines have been marked out for what will become a new subdivision, Desert Palisades. At this point, the boulder-strewn slope is sparse: a guardhouse, designed by California architecture firm Studio AR&D, a posthumously realized home by midcentury master Al Beadle, and, most recently, an impossible-to-miss suburban ranch house clad entirely in mirror, better known as artist Doug Aitken’s latest installation.
On the heels of "Doug Aitken: Electric Earth," a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, this newest project, called Mirage, has been much anticipated, so AD sat down with the artist in the shade cast by the structure to discuss how he arrived at this particular form. Buildings have long been a part of his portfolio. Back in 2007, he covered MoMA’s façades with projections, and, in 2012, he turned his focus on the Hirshhorn Museum, in Washington, D.C., transforming its iconic circular façade into a sound and video installation. Mirage, a sculpture in the form of a house, is very much a part of that conceptual arc.
Aitken’s muse for this project came not from the iconic forms of major museums, but instead from the anonymous suburban houses that glutted the American landscape through the second part of the 20th century. “In a lot of ways,” he explains, “the inspiration for this as a sculpture is the architecture you don’t remember. I was interested in what you had driven by thousands of times and you don’t even register its presence because it’s just so much a part of the pattern.”
Not meant for occupation, the house is simply the form of a house. “I wanted to take that form and drain it — drain it of narrative, drain it of history — take all the texture, surface, history,” he says. Mirrored, it directly reflects the landscape back at anyone who visits it, shifting the narrative away from those meanings carried by the suburban house and back at the landscape itself.
Overlooking Palm Springs, the house features carefully crafted views of its surroundings. “All the corridors and rooms are designed specifically for this location,” he says. At the openings, where views are framed, Aitken included faceted mirrors. “It’s like a human-scale kaleidoscope.”
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