Alex Israel’s second solo show at Almine Rech Gallery, following “Thirty” in 2012, features an ensemble of two self-portraits, three “Lens” works and a display with a “Sky Backdrop” painting. Formal elements of Southern California — its physical landscape, architecture and consumer goods — are still the main subject of the exhibition.
Enlarged and frameless, three eight-foot-tall sunglass lenses made of UV-protective plastic are leaned against the gallery walls. These lenses are presented in a range of the same colors used in the new “Sky Backdrop” painting: yellow, orange and purple. Their surfaces are reflective and transparent, refined and seductive, calling to mind the “finish fetish” art scene. Intimate and monumental, they have a surreal presence.
In the second room, a small polychrome sculpture representing a Chevy Corvette stationed near a cactus is displayed on a white pedestal in front of a large stucco “Sky Backdrop” that evokes a horizontal cinematic expanse (rather than the Spanish Revival windows or doorways from the homes of Hollywood’s Golden Age that Israel uses in other works). Once a prop, the Corvette has been reproduced in painted bronze. It’s a performing object, an “actor for a part” making possible a cinematic gesture: an ensemble to be experienced through an absent camera. The viewer’s experience is almost choreographed. Israel’s role is “directorial.”
The two self-portraits exhibited are the latest updates of Israel’s logo — a silhouette of the artist’s profile. Here they frame two stereotypical images from California culture: a seagull flying, and a view of the U.S. Open of Surfing. These self-portraits are markers, a logo for a brand that is Alex Israel. By staging himself, Israel is the main subject and the context for his work, using the language of branding to clarify and communicate these conditions.