On view this month at Greene Naftali, the gallery plays host to Sunset Coast Drive, its second solo show presenting the works of Alex Israel. An outing that looks to deepen the artist’s ongoing ongoing engagement with the culture and aesthetics of his native Los Angeles, it mines the sparkling optimism exported by its entertainment industry, while presenting imagery subject to close scrutiny.
The exhibition features new, large-scale versions of his Pop image of a breaking wave. Each fiberglass Wave is cast from a neoprene panel, patterned from wetsuit material that’s been stitched together and stretched like a canvas. These wall reliefs appear soft and pliant but are hard to the touch, cool and precise. Streamlined into a graphic outline and airbrushed in unique colorways of sherbet hues, the Waves channel both Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print and its derivative surfwear logos. The stylized wave has also become a vehicle for Israel’s own project of exacting self-branding: it first appeared in an animated dream sequence in his film SPF-18 (Netflix, 2017), a feature-length teen romance, and its ubiquity across platforms has made it a signature theme, a visual stand-in for the artist. These waves crash down with a cartoonish abandon, parodying the power of nature with their colorful, looping renderings that simultaneously present as graphic design and as a freehand drawing.
Regionalist fantasy also plays out in the large-scale sculpture Sunset Coast Drive, an idealized model of an LA street scene in miniature. The work presents an amalgam of the city’s architecture as a mix of facades both real and imagined. From an Old Western saloon to a Spanish Colonial Revival fro-yo shop, a Postmodern dentist’s office to a peachy stuccoed Greek temple, the twenty-one storefronts evoke a studio backlot, Main Street at Disneyland, or Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip—a leveling of the commercial and art historical lineages that often fuse in Israel’s practice.Replete with subtle references to his own past works, biography, and sites of production, this mental map of Israel’s LA appears both vacant and charged with personal meaning—riddled with Easter eggs, like a movie sequel for fans of the franchise. A pastel ghost town, this site of both projection and memory reflects the artist’s experience of LA during lockdown. Moving through an empty, quiet city, Israel here presents a space suspended between reality and the surreal, as if mining the silence and reflection for a site to re-examine the city he makes home, and to hope to recover some of its absent energy.
The show closes June 25th.
– D. Creahan
Alex Israel: Sunset Coast Drive [Exhibition Site]