Silver Lake's Sunset Pacific Motel has a dark and storied past. The course of its history changes this week with the opening of Vincent Lamouroux's new site specific reinvention, "Projection," where the artist has whitewashed the entire plot including the palm trees and the adjoining billboard. Officially opening to the public this Sunday, April 26, the abandoned building formerly nicknamed the Bates Motel, is revived as an art piece, shortly before its final bow at the end of the year when it is bulldozed to become a new mixed use development.
"I found it 15 years ago," explained Lamouroux. "I was an art student and quite interested in the possibility of maybe one day doing something here. I came back with the idea for this project two years ago. The building had lost its capacity to affect people, so with this piece, the purpose was to re-affect all the passers-by in a positive way. It works very well because as a motel, it's really a shared space."
The once quaint mid-century modern motor lodge, with colorful tile mosaics, a sparkling pool and a welcoming googie-style sign with atomic antennae, fell into ruin as the victim of an inattentive owner, a lawyer who refused to address overwhelming, declining sanitary conditions and code violations. No longer desirable for low-key honeymooners or European travelers, drugs, prostitution, and murder moved in. The city soon cited it as one of Los Angeles' most dangerous spots. Authorities finally answered the neighbors' outcry and ordered it closed as a nuisance property in 2002. As late as 2006, most of the original furnishings remained, as if the lingering squatters had just turned off their TVs and walked away.
Since then, the Sunset Pacific has been an obsession with L.A.'s creative types, serving as a blank canvas for notable street artists like Shepard Fairey, Invader, MearOne and Phantom. There have been raucous secret art parties in the rooms and even some web content creation, the most memorable being an inventive audio visual series for the accessories company Incase, called "Room 205." Bands like OFF!, Austra and the Soft Moon played short sets in the closet sized room to an audience of ghosts, videos that can still be seen on YouTube. However, Lamouroux's concept raises the bar, and with his simple stroke of a lime based white wash, removes the blight and establishes an icon. "Projection" is his representation for what is perceived as the Californian dream. What it is, what it will become, what it once was.
"We really fell in love with the project as we did with Los Angeles," says Nicolas Libert, co-founder of the art gallery/retailer Please Do Not Enter, who spearheaded the installation. "For us, being French, its almost like a dream. We are holding dreams in one single location. We have the palm trees, we have the billboard, we have the address, and you have this iconic architecture. More than that, you have the nickname, the Bates Motel, which of course is a reference to the industry which is so important here. How could you expect so much (symbolism) in one single space?"
On a clear day, the stark, all-white landscape against our saturated blue sky, may remind art enthusiasts of what inspired local legends Ed Ruscha's architectural compositions or John Baldessari to erase his focal point. The organizers of Lamouroux's installation worry that it looks too much like the color copy rendering sent out months ago. The unforgiving white lime renders what was once a 3-D, roach infested nightmare into a super flat, ethereal cloud, on which, people can project their own ideas. The team estimates that about 100 people a day have stopped by to take photos of the work in progress. Its hashtag, #projectionla, is trending on social media and local tv news crews are hovering. However, with the creation of such an attention getting photo opportunity, it is not mere coincidence that the installation will be unveiled in time for Paris Photo LA, the groundbreaking french art fair at Paramount on May 1-3. Yet, the team has worked hard to ensure that this is not a commercial venture, working with the nonprofit Creative Migration to design workshops and school programs to take place in the community around the building during its two week run. In turn, the project has gained support from the Mayors office, the neighborhood council, the developer and even the billboard company, which, after some convincing, moved its advertising to make way for paint.
What is going to happen as the installation is officially unveiled? It will be very much celebrated as a family friendly "meeting point" for the community to interact and share the moment, but the building itself, in the interest of safety will remain closed. And in two weeks, as the facade washes away, the building transforms once again, before its gone.
"By trying to erase (the motel), it's become so obvious, so strong, so evident, and now, people don't see the billboard, or the sign, or the rest of Sunset anymore, they've just come to see this special place," Libert exclaims. "The California dream has value. The Californian people have value. Vincent couldn't have done this in Paris, or anywhere else. It's such a powerful idea here, on this special location. This is the best gift we could bring with us. Just as Vincent is, we're big fans of Los Angeles. And that's the reason why we moved here, because we fell in love. And we fell in love with the dream, but also the reality. This is a happy day."