Alex Israel explores and embraces pop culture as a global visual language. Deeply entwined with his hometown of Los Angeles, he traffics in the detritus of Hollywood film production—backdrops, sets, and props—while also inhabiting the roles of filmmaker, talk-show host, designer, and hologram. Israel’s art practice doubles as a brand, centered around a Southern Californian millennial lifestyle for which his iconic profile-in-shades Self-Portrait functions as a logo, mobilized across high-visibility platforms in the worlds of art, entertainment, fashion, and tech. Embedded within each of Israel’s endeavors are not only a landscape (of LA) and a portrait (of himself), but a savvy meditation on a world fueled by celebrity, product placement, and online influence.
Israel received a BA from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, in 2003, and an MFA from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 2010. The following year, he began producing works at the Warner Bros. Design Studio in Burbank, California. These include Flats, a series of shaped panels airbrushed to suggest the distinctive gradients of LA sunsets, and Sky Backdrops, ethereal canvases depicting cloudy skies streaked with pink, blue, and orange. These series were born out of the set of As It Lays, a DIY talk show in which a deadpan Israel interviews celebrities about their everyday lives and routines as a form of portraiture. Israel’s Self-Portrait series began life as the show’s Hitchcock-inspired logo, evolving into color-block paintings on fiberglass panels, and ultimately into larger photorealistic paintings that feature the LA landscape, reflections on its culture industry, and clues to the artist’s process.
For Property, Israel’s first purely sculptural project, which he began as a student, he enlisted rented movie studio props as “inanimate actors” to perform the roles of various readymades in the gallery. Inversely, he will on occasion manufacture a seamless movie prop replica, transforming a silver-screen memory into a physical multiple. His Lenses, a series of high-gloss, massively scaled-up UV-protective plastic sunglass lenses, references 1960s California Finish Fetish sculpture and the artist’s own Freeway Eyewear brand. Self-Portrait (Wetsuits) are hollow cast aluminum figures that draw on classical antiquity, custom surf gear, and the artist’s feature-length take on the teen surf drama, SPF-18 (2017), which is available for streaming on Netflix and iTunes. Israel’s Waves, painting reliefs that turn the image of a cresting tide into yet another stylized logo, also have their origins in this film.
In 2016 and 2017, Israel’s collaboration with novelist Bret Easton Ellis resulted in two exhibitions of text paintings. Artist and author share a fascination with LA as both background and subject, and in their coproduced works reflect on the city’s mythos by setting Ellis’s short texts against Israel’s stock backdrops. Occupying the spaces of pop culture and media, Israel’s collaborations with Ellis, Louis Vuitton, Rimowa, and Snapchat—along with his own Infrathin Apparel clothing line and his embrace of mass platforms such as Netflix and YouTube—allow his work to engage directly with the mainstream, to glide across surfaces, from limited-edition consumer products to teenagers’ smartphone screens, moving through our thoughts, algorithms, and clouds.
Alex Israel: New Waves
An animated, short video by Alex Israel takes viewers on a visual journey through the ideas and imagery behind his latest exhibition in Hong Kong.
Alex Israel and Venus Lau
Alex Israel speaks with curator and writer Venus Lau about New Waves, his latest exhibition in Hong Kong. Israel reveals his spirit animal, discusses his love of Duchamp, and tells Lau about the process behind his newest works.
Alex Israel discusses his feature-length film with Derek Blasberg.
Alex Israel / Bret Easton Ellis
Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews the artist and writer about their recent collaboration.
Diana Widmaier Picasso, curator of the exhibition Desire, reflects on the history of eroticism in art.
Art Basel Hong Kong 2021
May 21–23, 2021, booth 1d30
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong with a presentation of modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by gallery artists. New paintings by Georg Baselitz, Alex Israel, Ed Ruscha, and Sarah Sze are featured alongside exceptional works in a range of mediums by Louise Bonnet, Theaster Gates, Henry Moore, Nam June Paik, and others, uncovering formal and conceptual innovations and associations that span genres and aesthetic approaches.
Georg Baselitz, Noch ein Orangenesser, 2020 © Georg Baselitz
Ice and Fire: A Benefit Exhibition in Three Parts
October 15, 2020–March 23, 2021
The benefit exhibition Ice and Fire features works by more than forty artists who have enduring relationships with the Kitchen in New York. Installed within the organization’s three-story space in Chelsea, which is currently closed due to the global pandemic, the three-part exhibition is viewable online. Proceeds from sales will go toward a planned renovation on the occasion of the Kitchen’s fiftieth anniversary, ensuring that the nonprofit space will remain a platform for artistic experimentation in its historic and beloved building. Work by Cecily Brown, Roe Ethridge, Mark Grotjahn, Alex Israel, Ed Ruscha, Taryn Simon, Mary Weatherford, and Christopher Wool is included.
Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Capri 53.57), 2020 © Mark Grotjahn
Artist Plate Project
Coalition for the Homeless
November 16–December 14, 2020
Gagosian is pleased to support the Coalition for the Homeless’s Artist Plate Project fundraiser. Artwork by fifty artists, including Cecily Brown, Katharina Grosse, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Sarah Sze, Andy Warhol, Jonas Wood, and Christopher Wool, is featured on limited-edition dinner plates produced by Prospect and made available through Artware Editions to support the Coalition’s lifesaving programs. All of the funds raised by the sale of the plates will provide food, crisis services, housing, and other critical aid to thousands of people experiencing homelessness and instability. The purchase of one plate can feed seventy-five homeless and hungry New Yorkers.
Katharina Grosse, Shake Before Using, 2020 © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany 2020
Wayne Thiebaud Influencer
A New Generation
Through November 12, 2021
Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, University of California, Davis
On the occasion of his 100th birthday, this exhibition explores the profound influence that Wayne Thiebaud, longtime UC Davis art professor, has had on subsequent generations of artists, including both fellow painters and his former students. Pairings explore how Thiebaud forecast the future of painting through his personal journey to find meaning and reinvention in the medium’s history. Work by Alex Israel and Jonas Wood is included.
Jonas Wood, Four Majors, 2018, Installation view, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, University of California, Davis, June 3–November 12, 2021. Artwork © Jonas Wood. Photo: Cleber Bonato
Face à Arcimboldo
Through November 22, 2021
Centre Pompidou-Metz, France
This exhibition, whose title translates to Arcimboldo Face to Face, invites visitors to explore the timeless vocabulary of the sixteenth-century painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (c. 1527–1593). The show demonstrates how his work has influenced art history for more than four centuries through the work of 130 artists, including work by Francis Bacon, Glenn Brown, Alex Israel, Ewa Juszkiewicz, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, and Ed Ruscha.
Ewa Juszkiewicz, Untitled (After Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun), 2020 © Ewa Juszkiewicz
Art and the Studio System
November 7, 2019–March 1, 2020
Yuz Museum, Shanghai
In Production: Art and the Studio System emphasizes the overlapping histories of visual art and film, with a particular focus on how the site of the studio, both in visual arts and in cinematic production, has radically shifted in the last twenty years. The exhibition highlights the exceptional gifts and acquisitions related to film and video that have entered the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s permanent collection in recent years including work by Piero Golia, Douglas Gordon, Alex Israel, and Mike Kelley.
Douglas Gordon, Déjà-Vu, 2000 , installation view, Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles. Artwork © Studio lost but found/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 . D.O.A., 1950, USA. Directed by Rudolph Maté. Produced by Joseph H. Nadel, Harry M. Popkin, and Leo C. Popkin. Distributed by United Artists © Cardinal Pictures. Photo: Brian Forrest
Feel the Sun in Your Mouth
August 24, 2019–February 2, 2020
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
This exhibition brings together artworks acquired by the museum over the past five years with a focus on art that incites sensation and demonstrates a renewed interest in sublime encounters with the world. Spanning a period of extreme technological growth that has led us from the first steps on the moon to the development of the Internet, this exhibition illuminates a return to the poetic, the intuitive, and the cosmic in current artistic practice. Work by Alex Israel, Tatiana Trouvé, and Mary Weatherford is included.
Mary Weatherford, Engine, 2014, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC © Mary Weatherford