House of mirrors dazzles in old bank with 'Mirage Detroit'
Are we in Oz or what?
A life-sized replica of a small ranch house made entirely of mirrors has landed in the neo-classical interior of the old People's State Bank (aka State Savings Bank), at Fort and Shelby in downtown Detroit.
Created by Los Angeles filmmaker and artist Doug Aitken,"Mirage Detroit" is not some mirrored fun house, but an installation of surprising subtlety, illuminated by ever-changing white lights.
"If I’m really lucky," Aitken said, chatting in the bank foyer Friday, "this will be something people want to spend time with and come back to."
If you're looking to have your socks knocked off, you're in the wrong art project. "Mirage Detroit" is more poetry than bombast, and exudes a Zen-like peace that encourages wonder and introspection.
Much of this has to do with the programmed lighting, which Aitken, 50, compares to early minimalist music. The computerized design was created by Andi Watson, who's done dramatic stage lighting for the alt-rock Radiohead for years.
(Click here for a handsome short video of "Mirage Detroit")
Aitken, who’s won a raft of international prizes, has a history of high-visibility projects. With “Sleepwalkers” in 2007, his projections covered the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, while in 2016 he tethered three geodesic-dome sculptures to the ocean floor off Catalina Island in California with “Underwater Pavilions.”
"Mirage Detroit" grew out of a 2017 installation with much the same mirrored house, which stood for six months in the desert hills on the edge of Palm Springs, California, virtually disappearing into the landscape.
Aitken's interest in a Detroit project was spiked after he spoke at the College for Creative Studies in 2016 as part of their Woodward Lectures Series.
Over drinks afterward, Aitken and CCS Center Galleries director Michelle Perron started to explore the possibility of a Motor City project.
"I gave Doug a tour of Detroit, and he kind of fell in love with it," Perron said.
There followed a number of months when Perron periodically sent Aitken photos of possible venues for an art installation.
"I was scouting sites all over the city," she said, "sending him pictures and descriptions to whet his appetite for what could be possible."
Some were classics of Detroit collapse, like the fabled Packard Plant. But Aitken wanted to shy away from anything resembling ruin porn.
"When Michelle sent pictures of this bank," he said, "that crystalized everything — this large empty vessel or volume with no signs of decay, a sort of cryogenically frozen piece of 20-century history."
That piece of history dates from 1900 and is the only Detroit building by McKim, Mead and White, the celebrated firm behind New York City's late, lamented Pennsylvania Station and Columbia University.
Empty for years, the bank has been meticulously restored over the past 18 months by Bedrock Detroit. "Mirage Detroit" will be its only tenant for as long as the exhibition runs, expected to be at least four months.
The heavy lifting to pull the enormous project together — several flatbed trucks were involved — was handled by Jennifer Gilbert, wife of Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, and JJ and Anthony Curis of the Library Street Collective gallery.
Installation sponsors were Bedrock Detroit, Quicken Loans Community Fund, and the Library Street Collective.
"Mike was a friend of mine," Aitken said, though "Mirage Detroit" was never intended as a reference to the earlier work.
"Mirage Detroit" will be free and open to the public, with regular hours Wednesday - Sunday.
Library Street is in the process of developing additional programming — lectures, music and performance —that will take place at “Mirage Detroit” during its run.
Realizing a major project in the Motor City has clearly been an affecting experience for the artist.
“My whole family is from Detroit,” explained Aitken, who was born in Los Angeles. “I grew up with the mythology and narrative of the city. Coming out here was almost an exercise in personal archeology.”
151 W. Fort, Detroit
Grand opening: 8-11 p.m. Oct. 10, with music by Jónsi of Sigur Rós
"Mirage Light" panel discussion: Doug Aitken and Andi Watson
4 p.m. Oct. 11
Regular hours: Noon-8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays