Doug Aitken

b. 1968

"The Handle Comes Up, the Hammer Comes Down," 2009

LED lightbox and steel
Edition of 4
Appears unsigned; each electrical piece reads "SloanLED IP66"
36.75" H x 132" W x 7.75" D

  • Provenance: Regen Projects, Los Angeles
    Private Collection, Los Angeles
    Private Collection, acquired from the above
    Sold: Phillips, New York, NY, February 27, 2019, Lot 35
  • Exhibited: Los Angeles, Regen Projects, Doug Aitken, September 11 - October 16, 2009 (another example exhibited)
  • Notes: Doug Aitken, born in the coastal town of Redondo Beach, California, is an American artist who creates works of various mediums, from installations, films, prints, architectural interventions, and live performances. Aitken's projects are considered thought-provoking and unparalleled. In 1987, he went to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena with a focus on magazine illustration, where he finished in 1991 with a degree in Fine Arts. After his studies, Aitken left the west coast and moved to New York City. This newfound territory became an exploration of new artistic endeavors. He created his installations "using numerous screens, video feeds, and sounds to immerse viewers in an environment that fuses time and space, internal and external, and body and mind" (Artnet). In 1994, while still in New York, three years after moving to the city, Lisa Spellman, an art dealer, and owner of 303 Gallery, granted Aitken an opportunity to have his first gallery show in her New York (Spears, 2011). Many of Aitken's multimedia pieces are large-scale sizes that revolve around the theme of how civilization and cultural elements affect our environment through a lens of time and space. While also challenging the narrative of his pieces. Specifically, on the environment, through his work, he often creates a visual display of mundane, industrial, and the deterioration of landscape. Aitken intentionally produces direct dialogue with the viewer to accentuate the piece's meaning and completely transform the viewership into an illuminating experience. His works want the audience to contemplate the narrative directly he supplies visually.

    The current LED lightbox installation stands almost 37-inches tall and is of four large letters that spell out the word "FATE." Not only does the word "fate" itself have a ubiquitous connotation, but it is intentional by Aitken himself. This piece was made in 2009 and included in Aitken's debut exhibition at Regen Projects in Los Angeles (Phillips, 2019). The installation piece creates a horizontal narrative, where you read the lettering from left to right. However, the writing is layered, with the viewer reading "FATE" first, and then the viewer's eyes follow the smaller font that reads across, "The Handle Comes up the Hammer Comes Down."

    Creating this layered feature hones in the audience to the piece entirely, which was intentional and a common feature of Aitkens' works. Continuing, on each letter, there are fragments of a photograph; however, when they are together and in order, it forms a fragmented picture. This picture is modern- and present-day society—visual components of a parking lot, with various cars parked in the foreground. As you move from the foreground to the middle, there appears to be a storefront with LED lights above that has the text, "The Handle Comes up the Hammer Comes Down," written. A very thought-provoking statement for the viewer to acknowledge and dissect. Above the LED sign is the sky filled with bundles of plum-colored clouds that scatter the mauve-colored sky, and just below the clouds is the lightly colored orange horizon, giving a hint of illumination. The visual landscape this created on the letters is easy to decipher, but Aitken only gives us enough of the fragmented parts to conclude the environment displayed. Again, however, it is left to the viewers' device to visualize the piece and tie in their thoughts, feelings, and personal accounts to create a narrative. In the end, the viewer's unique interpretations at that moment are welcomed as "the audience forms a relationship with his multidimensional content" (Phillips, 2019)

    Aitken and his body of work, especially his installations and film work, are the mediums he is best known for. He continually blurs the lines between different mediums. His works have been displayed in various exhibitions around the world. Aitken, since 1994, is still with the 303 Gallery in New York City. The current installation presents Aitkens' use of multimedia knowledge and talent, creating compelling pieces that spark an internal conversation with the viewer and awareness of how time and space relate to society and landscape. Aitkens' present work is a multidimensional piece with many layers to it. He challenges those who view the work to question whether they are entirely present with the environment around them; this challenge comes with an exchange between the viewer, the work, and the space and time presently inhabited.
  • Condition: Overall good condition. Occasional scattered minor scuffs and scratches commensurate with age.

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November 1, 2022 12:00 PM PDT
Monrovia, CA, US

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