Alex Israel returns to Almine Rech in Paris this fall for his fifth solo show with the gallery, adding a new perspective and mode of interpretation to the understanding and recontextualization of Pablo Picasso on the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. Treating the artist’s life and work as a fitting jumping-off point for continued explorations of the intersections of art and pop culture, of image and practice, or even of ego vs. landscape, Israel turns his attention to another aspect of Picasso’s legacy: La Californie.
At the height of his career, between 1955–1961, Picasso lived and worked at La Californie, a Belle Epoque villa on the French Riviera that he famously transformed into a salon filled with his own ceramics, paintings, prints and sculptures. Picasso, in turn, painted this elaborate mise-en-scene as a new form of self-portraiture. Referencing these intimate works, Israel offers a glimpse of his own L.A. studio—paint cans, easels, in-progress artworks and all—in Self-Portrait (Warner Bros.), 2023. In a series of smaller paintings, Israel replaces the traditional subjects of Picasso’s still-life compositions (Le Journal, fruit and liquor bottles) with California staples including The Los Angeles Times, Malibu rum, sheet music of Stevie Nicks’s “Dreams,” and an avocado.
The works continue Israel’s iterative approach towards his own visage, bounding each of these scenes within the artist’s signature shaped canvas resembling his own face. The result are a series of images never separated from the artist’s face and “brand.” Yet here, the artist executes perhaps one of his more intriguing operations with Self Portrait (After André Villers’ ‘Portrait of Picasso with Gary Cooper’s hat and gun’, 1959 © Adagp, Paris, 2023), depicting Picasso wearing classic French stripes and sporting Gary Cooper’s cowboy hat and gun. The house, located close by to Cannes, put the artist in touch with Hollywood royalty, and is emphasized here by the artist’s own place in the canon of fine art: royalty in his own right. That Israel’s face frames these trade-offs in image and reputation makes the concept all the more resonant.
The show closes November 10th.
– D. Creahan
Pablo Picasso at Almine Rech [Exhibition Site]