Los Angeles-based Alex Israel makes work that seems constantly engaged with his home city, the Californian metropolis that plays home to so many of image-driven outlets of the culture industry. Borrowing from the high-gloss, high production-value world of the Hollywood studio systems and culture corporations, Israel’s works explore the trappings and conventions of celebrity, perception and fame in the context of a city so actively engaged in the manipulation of each.
Taking a cue from his 2012 film As It Lays, a surreal interview series that saw the artist take interviews with blasé L.A. celebrities and residents, Israel has turned to his own artistic notoriety for his current show at Peres Projects in Berlin, exhibiting a large series of his Self-Portraits, fiber-glass panels cut and painted to resemble the artist’s face, repeatedly ad infinitum in a variety of colors and gradients throughout the gallery.
Created at the artist’s studio on the production lots for Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, Israel’s production process matches the obsessive focus on his own persona, examining the act of self-promotion and creation as a commercial act. The works are extremely polished and precise in their presentation, nearly identical in their machining and proportions, but painted in a variety of color palettes that range from cartoonish to realistic, each expressing a slightly altered take on the artist himself. In a comic twist, the works even bare the Warner Brother’s trademark on the back of each piece, branding them as proprietary content.
Through his near-obsessive delving into his own image, Israel’s work makes for an intriguing conversation with his broader artistic production, capitalizing on his current popularity in the market to forcefully project his personal image into both his work, and the gallery sphere at large. His face becomes both subject and object, turning his appearance into a consumable, endlessly repeated visual signifier; both celebrity and celebrant. Fittingly enough, Israel’s appearance becomes something of a logo, tying his features to an identifiable, if somewhat obtuse, personal brand that is hammered into the viewer’s head with each repeated viewing.
Israel’s work, then, presents a strikingly self-aware commentary on its own creation. The art can only exist in its current context based on the success of past works, referenced through the similar approaches used in painting the fiberglass boards. However, these works and techniques have been subsumed by the artist’s own appearance, taking a backseat to the presence of his image within the gallery walls. Despite the quality of construction, the viewer cannot escape Israel’s disembodied countenance, which nearly drowns out the work itself. The artist creates a situation in which his art must do battle with his own cult of personality, creating mass-produced works stuck between creative expression and commercial necessities.
Examining the act of cultural production through multi-faceted, commercial processes of Hollywood and the broader cultural industry, Israel’s works present an intriguingly self-aware acknowledgement of themselves. Binding the artist’s visual practice with a studied awareness of its own context in the chain of consumption, Israel presents a new body of work that blends Marxist analysis, self-fetishization, craftsmanship, local identity and corporate branding into a commentary on the interplay of art and commerce that drives so much of the city that Israel calls home.
Exhibition Site [Peres Projects]