Alex Israel - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York
    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    For Los Angeles born artist Alex Israel, 'Hollywood is not simply a town, but also an attitude and a way of moving and being.' His series of Flats are intended to evoke the experience of ‘Hollywooding’, a term used by the artist to describe the unique character of the city. Each of the Flats is stuccoed and painted with dusky shades of pink, orange, red and violet. Although they hang on the wall, Israel deliberately avoids referring to them as paintings, rather, he defines them as ’flats’, a technical term used in the film and television industry to describe backdrops for sets. This terminology implies the hierarchical relationship between background and foreground; stage and action. These works are implicitly, therefore, only a stage set for the performance of objects or actors. Israel further explored this relationship in his exhibition Property (2011) for which he rented a number of cinema props, which staged his Flats. The Flats, therefore, clearly evoke notions of staging and performance which are essential to his idea of ‘Hollywooding’. They also refer to his beloved city architecturally: they evoke the Spanish Colonial Revival Style prevalent across Southern California. This architectural style was in vogue in Hollywood’s Golden Age, with architects such as Wallace Neff and George Washington Smith creating this distinctive technique. The arches used by Israel in his Flats clearly reference the windows and doors of this Hispanic style, adding a further layer to the notion of framing a scene.

    His Flats also made an appearance in his video series As it Lays (2012) in which the artist acted as host for an interview chat show, his subjects included Marilyn Manson, Rachel Zoe and Molly Ringwald. Israel asks the subjects a series of questions in a deadpan manner, impassive and unresponsive, eliciting often uncomfortable reactions from his subjects. Israel was here quoting the 1980s film studios and the culture of celebrity. The interviews can also be understood in dialogue with Andy Warhol’s famous Screen Tests.

    The status of his work as fine art is challenged by the use of such terminology, blurring the distinctions between commercial and fine art. For the viewer at his Property exhibition, the Flats and props were deliberately unclear.

    Israel’s presentation of his work confronts the autonomy of art by insisting on its role as staging. Furthermore, Israel contests notions of originality and the artist’s hand within the making of a work. He collaborated with the scenic department at Warner Bros. Studio, in particular working with the scenic painter Andrew Pike. The intrinsic role of Pike in the making of the work challenges notions of authorship, a hugely significant point of debate amongst the younger generation of artists.

    Israel’s Flats recur again and again across his bodies of work, used in each case as a framing device for either on-screen action or for props acting as sculpture. His work could be interpreted as nostalgic; harkening back to a romantic Hollywood past and the American dream. Although his work is clearly embedded in the past, it is also highly contemporary: Lauri Firstenberg, for example, has described his work as 'an examination of the slippages between art and commerce, executed with cutting critique and 1980s graphics.' Israel’s work can be understood as unmistakably contemporary in the work’s negotiation between stage and reality, art and theatre, and the notion of originality.

    Israel has described his props as 'perform[ing] the role of sculpture and at the end of the exhibition they return[ed] to the prop house that I rented them from and the continue to perform various roles.' Israel understands his Flats as frames, as playing a supporting role rather than performing centre stage.


Untitled (Flat)

acrylic on stucco on panel
196.5 x 137.3 x 7 cm (77 3/8 x 54 x 2 3/4 in.)
Signed and dated 'Alex Israel '13' and stamped 'MADE AT WARNER BROS. STUDIOS BURBANK, CA.' on the reverse.

£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £362,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm