ALEX ISRAEL at Greene Naftali mentioned in Vanity Fair by Nate Freeman
Acrylic on fiberglass
96 x 96 inches (243.8 x 243.8 cm)
Greene Naftali is pleased to announce Sunset Coast Drive, Alex Israel’s second solo show at the gallery. The exhibition deepens the artist’s ongoing engagement with the culture and aesthetics of his native Los Angeles, mining the sparkling optimism exported by its entertainment industry.
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. As in his series of Self-Portrait paintings (to which the Waves offer a more symbolic correlate), Israel subjects the wave motif to a kind of Warholian repetition—a knowing nod to the factory-like production of Hollywood personae.
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. His daily walks and traffic-less drives reacquainted him with the physical attributes of his once-crowded city, all while Angelenos shut inside became ever more engaged with topical discussions of the metaverse. Israel forgoes virtual space for an analog representation of a So-Cal dreamscape: as John Kelsey has written, “his work treads a fine line between nostalgia and a perverse desire to dig up living ruins.”
Israel bridges the gaps between art and other forms of entertainment, the better for us to really see them. The exhibition is accompanied by Chasing Waves, a rhapsodic soundtrack by Grammy award-winning producer and songwriter Jeff Bhasker. It incorporates samples from pop hits (The Ronettes, Leo Sayer), studio sound effects (lapping waves, a passing car), as well as excerpts from Israel’s 2019 work Solo, a video installation in which his holographic avatar plays a melancholic composition on alto saxophone.