Inside the Artist’s Studio
Artist Alex Israel's celebrity video portraits.
“Today, the portrait is the celebrity interview, and the great portraitist may be Oprah,” says Alex Israel, a Los Angeles–based artist whose “video portraits” of the famous go on view this month at New York’s Reena Spaulings gallery (Reenaspaulings.com). In his second solo show, the 29-year-old—best known for installations made of items rented from Hollywood prop houses—offers his take on such disparate celebs as Rachel Zoe, Larry Flynt, and Vidal Sassoon. “I’m attempting to achieve a portrait of each subject, a likeness in the most classical sense,” Israel says. Securing his subjects through friends’ connections, Israel interviews them on a talk-show set meant to reference TV chats and L.A.’s red carpet culture. But Israel pursues no follow-ups to the often wacky answers his seemingly banal questions elicit. (“Do you prefer a window seat or an aisle seat?” he deadpans to Christina Ricci.) To his question “What is your favorite cult film?” rocker Marilyn Manson replies: “The Jim Jones massacre. Was that filmed?” Only by going off message, Israel says, and departing from their carefully crafted personas, do celebs reveal something of their true selves. His 6-to-15-minute shorts will run at the gallery and then on Asitlays.com and Wmag.com. “Seeing someone in a different way,” he says, “can be resonant and magical.”