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Israel Focuses on Celebrity Culture, LA Iconography in Huntington Exhibition

Contemporary artist Alex Israel incorporates his love of Los Angeles and Hollywood film in his new exhibition ‘Alex Israel at The Huntington,’ which is currently on display at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The exhibition’s co-curators Kevin Salatino and Catherine Hess worked with Israel to mix the artist’s contemporary pieces with the Huntington Art Gallery’s classic European artwork to start a conversation between the old and the new.

Israel created sculptures based on props from two popular Hollywood movies, “The Maltese Falcon” and “Risky Business.”

“The Maltese Falcon” piece has been incorporated in a display with The Huntington’s Renaissance sculptures.

“This is one of those places where I’m hoping that the public does sort of a double take, because mixed in within our remarkable Renaissance bronzes is the Maltese Falcon,” Hess said.

Warner Brothers still has several prop pieces of the actual Maltese Falcon from the 1941 film, according to Salatino.

“Alex was allowed to cast directly from one of the originals,” he said.

“Risky Business” is an egg-shaped crystal mounted on a black glass base placed on the mantel in the dining room in the Huntington Art Gallery.

Hess called the installation “subtle,” explaining that, “unless one is a complete devotee of the 1983 film ‘Risky Business,’ it might go without notice that the infamous crystal egg from that movie is here placed on the mantel.”

Salatino said Israel actually traveled to Sweden to the original maker of the crystal egg used in the movie “Risky Business” and had this fabricated to exactly the same specifications.

Israel recreated his artwork “Desperado” from a movie prop that he found in Cinecittà, which is a famous film studio in Rome, Italy.

“He was just so mesmerized to find an object in Italy that was making such a direct reference to Southern California,” Salatino said.

“Desperado” was placed in the Huntington Art Gallery’s Grand Tour Gallery with many works dedicated to traveling to a foreign place.

While Israel doesn’t have an Academy Award statue piece itself, he created an object with a casting of the statue.

“The Oscar has such significance as something that represents the fame of Hollywood and celebrity,” Hess said.

“Alex wanted to make a cast of the Oscar itself, but he realized that the Academy controls its image entirely and he couldn’t do that,” Salatino said, noting that Israel then decided to create a negative space around the Oscar shape.

The giant single sunglass lens piece by Israel displayed upstairs in the gallery is associated with sunny Southern California and celebrity culture.

“It’s actually made of UV-protected sunglass material,” Hess said. “It’s a remarkable object.”

“Living in Southern California, everyone owns sunglasses because of the sun,” Hess continued. “Sunglasses also have a reference to celebrity and people wearing sunglasses to become incognito.”

Israel even has his own sunglasses company called Freeway Eyewear.

“Each line of sunglasses in named after a different freeway,” Hess said.

The Huntington has a pop-up store that sells Freeway Eyewear sunglasses in the art gallery.

Israel also names artwork after two Southern California food establishments, “The Big Chill” and “In-N-Out.”

“The Big Chill” has been put in a display case with French 18th-century faience art pieces.

“This is again one of those double take moments when you look at this wonderful display of French 18th-century soft-paste porcelain and you’re not thinking ‘What is Alex Israel doing in the case?,” Hess commented. “You’re thinking maybe ‘I didn’t know they had soft-serve yogurt in the 18th century.’ You’re wondering what belongs and what doesn’t belong?”

Salatino said one of Israel’s relatives at one time owned a chain of frozen yogurt shops called “The Bigg Chill” in the region.

“It’s also a reference to the film ‘The Big Chill,’ which is a popular 80’s film,” he added. “The yogurt itself is in marble, but the cup is actual Styrofoam. It’s a kind of humorous take on durability. Alex’s whole point is that if this were in a waste site, it’s much more likely that the Styrofoam would last longer than the marble.”

There’s an entire room in the Huntington Art Gallery with wall paintings of The Huntington’s garden plants and one of its trash cans in a display called “In-N-Out.”

“There’s the signature In-N-Out cup next to the trash can,” Hess said. “It’s bringing the out in and having the in be out.”

The institution’s objective of juxtaposing Israel’s creations with the relatively genteel content in the Huntington Art Gallery is certainly working. One visitor apparently ran fleeing from the exhibition, firing security guards while leaving the hall.


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