Washington Boulevard in Culver City is one of the few neighbourhoods left in Los Angeles that has not yet been transformed for the worse by shiny new condos. Blocks of low-rise stucco buildings bear timeworn painted signs: ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Guns and Ammo’, ‘Ray Blom Plumbing’. If the area hadn’t existed, Doug Aitken could have invented it. The artist has long looked to the mundane and forgotten, an archaeology of a vanishing American culture. His mirrored words or light-box wall pieces often draw from the long horizons and isolation of the West; his appreciation for it surely fated the discovery of his new studio.
Driving along Washington Boulevard four years ago, he saw a hand-lettered ‘For Sale’ sign in front of a transmission repair shop. When Aitken stopped to enquire, he was greeted gruffly by the owner, a man in oily overalls who said he would only sell to someone who worked with his hands. Aitken said he was an artist and it turned out that the owner had done work for Robert Rauschenberg and other artists over the years. After months of courtship, Aitken convinced the owner to sell him the place.
Image: Doug Aitken’s new Culver City studio. Its rooftop signage now states ‘I don’t know’.
Photography: Mark Mahaney