No doubt everyone has seen this, the whitewashing of the old Sunset Pacific Motel slated for demolition on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Vincent Lamouroux is the artist, there are several videos out there about the process (big machines spraying the trees, the ground and the building itself); it was open as an installation from 26 April to 10 May, 2015 and then left to the weather, again.
Much has been made of the informal reference to the motel as the Bates Motel and Hitchcock's Psycho, despite the motel in the film being one of those old auto courts beside a lonely stretch of highway, and not in a city at all. But whatever, a motel is a motel, evidently. Does any derelict and empty building become sinister because it no longer functions in society? And are motels particularly susceptible to this? Motels in film always offer anonymity for antisocial plot and action, it is a building type that exists outside the narrative of law and order, family homes and settled, normative lives.
Martin Luther King was shot at the Lorraine Motel, now part of a Civil Rights museum in Memphis. As it stands, un-whitewashed, it seems conventional, disengaged from its history. If it had been painted white, or black, or any detail-obliterating colour, would that have transformed it, empowered it, or rendered it exceptional? This touches on a discussion in On Site review 33:land about the limits of architectural expression; how much of architecture is form, how much is typology, how much is programmatic history.
The Sunset Pacific no-longer Motel has become a 1:1 white gessoed model piece in the greater model that is the actual city: its form is both heightened and made meaningless, its typology is lost along with its function, but its history is alive in both its nickname and in its original, hopeful, end-of-Route 66 name: Sunset Pacific. This is old California, the palm trees, the deco assemblage of building parts, and it is middle California of Sunset Strip, sleaze and screens that got small – all clichés that made a derelict building very attractive for the transformative processes of art. Now it is a French art installation in an arid city in an urban desert in a four-year drought.