Rendered in a sfumato haze of iridescent pinks and lilacs, Alex Israel’s untitled diptych stems from the definitive series of Flats that form the core of his practice. Taking their cue from the industry term for flm and television set backdrops, the Flats are deeply rooted in the culture of Hollywood, the spiritual homeland of the Los Angeles-born artist. Defined by their ambient sunset hues, the works draw inspiration from the Southern Californian sky and its saccharine reconstruction in 1980s television studio sets. Pristine slices of verisimilitude, they take on an otherworldly sheen of flawless artifice: models of unattainable physical perfection that draw us into a world of rose-tinted possibility. Simultaneously star performers and unassuming props, the Flats represent what Israel has described as ‘a unique amalgamation of influences that harkens back to other romantic times and far-off places. It’s everywhere, and it’s a look that has become closely associated with the city, and with the Hollywood dream machine’ (A. Israel quoted in T. Chaillou, ‘Alex Israel in Conversation with Timothee Chaillou’, Novembre, Issue 7, Spring/Summer 2013). Each of Israel’s Flats is designed by the artist, but produced in collaboration with scenery painters on the backlot of the Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank. In this way, the artist plays with the slippage between painting and staging, probing the boundary between fine art and commercial production. In doing so, Israel creates works that both invoke and critique the machinations of the entertainment industry. The present example was exhibited in the year of its creation at Israel’s first solo show at Peres Projects, Berlin.
Israel’s Flats have come to represent the central strand of his oeuvre. They constitute an integral part of the ongoing project Property, hung innocuously on the walls alongside rented cinema props in site-specific installations. In 2012, several larger examples formed part of the elaborate stage set for his online talk show As It Lays, broadcast from Reena Spaulings Gallery in New York. With clear references to the set used by the 1980s chat show host Sally Jesse Raphael, the programme has been widely understood as the contemporary heir to Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. Israel’s line-up of interviewees included celebrities of past and present fame, from Kato Kaelin to Vidal Sassoon, Marilyn Manson to Rachel Zoe. His enigmatic set-up, starring himself in a pair of dark glasses, served to blur the boundary between fantasy and reality: seemingly banal and bizarre questions foregrounded profound existential themes, whilst jokes merged seamlessly with deep-seated truths. The Flats framed the pageantry in silent perfection, gateways to an impossible state of dream fulfillment. Tinged with nostalgia and steeped in illusion, they represent Israel’s response to a world in which life and performance are inextricably entwined. ‘I’ve always been interested in the magic of the movies’, Israel claims, ‘in the connection between how they manipulate us and how art can manipulate us’ (A. Israel, quoted in A. W. Simpson, ‘Alex Israel’s Berlin Babylon’, http://www.interviewmagazine.com/ art/alex-israel-peres-projects#/ [accessed 18 November 2014]).