Alex Prager’s New Exhibition is a Dystopian Love Letter to Los Angeles

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Alex Prager Play the Wind Lehmann Maupin New York
Big West, 2019Courtesy Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

Artist Alex Prager tells Miss Rosen about her newly opened exhibition in New York, featuring what she describes as “the most autobiographical work I have ever done”

Alex Prager’s lifelong love affair with Los Angeles has informed the creation of her art since the beginning of her career, when she went around the city with a camera and a friend making photographs guerilla-style – no permits and all heart. 

The city as muse is an archetype that runs throughout art history, from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris to Keith Haring’s New York City, providing a setting just as alive as its inhabitants. It is a sensation evident in every breath of Play The Wind, Prager’s new exhibition of film, photography, and sculpture.

“This is the most autobiographical work I have ever done,” Prager says, a statement that reveals itself figuratively and literally throughout the show. Upon entering the gallery, you are greeted by the figure of ‘Big West’, a towering sculpture of a woman decked out in her freshest Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, whose message is simply: ‘Welcome Home’.

Home, as Prager reveals, is an exquisite dreamscape, a city like a “run on sentence,” as Spike Jonze describes LA in the exhibition catalogue. This is the grammar Prager uses throughout her work, beautifully realised in the exhibition opener: an eight-minute film which tracks the journey of protagonists Dimitri Chamblas and Riley Keough across the dystopian landscape of Los Angeles. 

Featuring car crashes, haphazard nudity, a fall through the sky, and an eccentric cast of characters that includes her family, Prager weaves scenes of impending doom with the pleasure of the absurd, pushing and pulling us in several directions at once. “There has always been an unsettling feeling running throughout my work – this one more than ever because I felt such a pull backwards yet a fight to move forward,” says Prager, who has just become a mother.

Here Prager stands like two-faced Roman god Janus, looking forward and backward simultaneously, balancing the illusions of nostalgia and the fears of the future. In scenes shot on location for the very first time since her youth, Prager confronts issues of trust, vulnerability, and danger we feel today as we glide along the precipice of a brave new world.

“Everyone is feeling this eerie confusion. There’s a bit of chaos and anarchy rumbling beneath the surface,” Prager says. “We look back to a happier time, but we don’t really know if it was happier or safer; it just feels like it was because we lived through it – whereas in the future, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The artist describes her relationship with photography as “love/hate,” the natural outgrowth of managing a career and cultivating natural creativity. Play The Wind restored Prager’s love for the medium as she came to cherish the ability the still image possessed to freeze time and allow us to contemplate the tiniest detail that would otherwise be swept away in the rush of film. Nothing is happenstance, from the Thomas Guide atlas captured on a car seat to the tiny photograph of Prager as ‘Helen North’ on the cover of Women Now magazine – the first time she has ever placed her visage inside her work.

With Play The Wind, Prager offers a moment of respite in an overwhelming world. “My job isn’t to answer any of the questions of what to do, but seeing that emotion and what we’re going through in art,” she says. “Reflecting what we are going through is always helpful because there is some sort of release that occurs when I see what I am feeling reflected in a work of art. It makes me feel stronger, like I can confront a little more about how I am feeling and what is going on.”

Alex Prager: Play the Wind is at Lehmann Maupin, New York, until October 26, 2019.