Self-Portrait, 2013

Alex Israel

Production Year


Alex Israel believes in stardust, a magic unique to Hollywood that has the power to turn the ordinary into celebrity. Whereas in his previous output he has acted as director, sprinkling everything from rented prop-­warehouse set pieces to reality-­television stars throughout his installations and videos, in this exhibition he has turned the wand on himself. “Alex Israel: Self-­Portraits” features twenty identical fiberglass and bondo profiles of his head, all stamped assembly line style across the walls of the gallery. Each has been sprayed in gradient palettes lifted from a variety of references as well as paintings by other artists, many of whom have been as bedazzled by Southern California as Israel is himself. The profile—the artist calls it his “logo”—was originally created for As It Lays, 2012, a beguiling if campy work of talk show–style interviews for which Israel cast himself as host. By also casting himself as an icon, Israel here positions himself within a lineage of artists that mine the cult of celebrity and the rhetoric of advertising. In building his face out of plastic, spraying it with colors evocative of LA, and simplifying its contours into shapes that can be easily reproduced, Israel collapses narratives that constitute the dreams of those who flock to the City of Angels into a single, compact image. The icon is a brand— which today is perhaps the most veracious form of portraiture. Hollywood has always been Israel’s muse. For him, it is not a place or a community but a way of being in the world. If Hollywood as a way of life is his subject, then Israel is mining not the cult of the celebrity but of the reality celebrity. After all, Tinseltown no longer belongs to Hitchcock (a director who also turned his face into an icon) but to those who dream of transforming their lives into marketable brands. What’s perhaps most magical about Israel is the way he immerses himself in this realm, celebrating dreams that are so easy to dismiss. This places him among the most audacious artists working today. — Allese Thomson Art Forum