A lot can be said about Alex Israel’s Lens. It’s a close examination of a Los Angeles artifact and a surrealist transparent sculpture. It’s a giant black fingernail leaned against a wall and a warping fun house mirror. It’s a sci-fi disc and a sublime looking glass you can put yourself through. It’s simple and complex and has a generous amount of humor to it as it is ultimately a gigantic displaced lens looking for the Freeway sunglasses it belongs to.
The piece is placed in the corner of a gallery space at Culver City’s LAXART. The room is white with an unfinished cement floor and an exposed wooden ceiling that bright fluorescent lights hang from. Lens hangs out in a corner, just sitting there watching you and bouncing back your reflection. From affar it feels delicate and like you could easily topple it over, shattering it into a million pieces of sanded obsidian. It feels smaller too: its corner placement in an empty room challenges your sense of space.
As you approach it, you find that Lens is bigger and bulkier than you may have expected. It is in fact transparent and, in standing next to it, it’s shape reveals that it is a blown up sunglass lens. It previously may have looked triangular and bulbous, perhaps even like polished indoor version of Ellsworth Kelly’s Stele I–but it is a giant sunglass lens blown up hundreds of times bigger than its original size to be examined. It reflects–literally and figuratively–aspects of Los Angeles culture and has Southern California climate, fashion, concerns, preoccupations, and more glossed onto its surface. It’s austere and guarded and, while vulnerable and alone, demands attention from everyone around it. There are no scratches on the piece which suggest that the giant who owns this lens forced the piece out, that this part of his glasses–like many–was disposable or perhaps even passé. It’s a fascinating gigantic part of a pair of sunglasses.
Lens is made of the same plastic that smaller, normal sized lenses are made from. The piece is Alex’s first sculpture that was “made, not rented,” something undoubtedly crafted from within “the system” and brought into an LA gallery space. It very much serves as a large exclamation point for Alex as sunglasses have been a thematic point in his work for some time, from bespectacled LA soap opera Rough Winds to talk show and celebrity culture satire As It LAys. It’s a fascinating sculpture and, although “just a lens,” acts as a window into the bizarrely beautiful and bright LA world.
Photo at top by Alex White, photo of reflection and through lens from Alex Israel Studio.