Artist Alex Prager showcases retro Hollywood with bizarre twists
Since the early 20th century, Hollywood has been heavily associated with glamor and extravagance, but 42-year-old artist Alex Prager has aimed to portray through her photographs that there is much more to the area than meets the eye.
Over 100 photographs by Prager, spanning from her earliest works to her recent releases, are being exhibited at the Lotte Museum of Art (LMOA) in Songpa District, southern Seoul, hosted by the Lotte Foundation for Arts.
The entire exhibition is divided into sections that chronologize Prager’s works since 2007.
“Prager’s photographs depict a wide range of time, from the 1950s to 1990s, and this gives a sense of nostalgia to viewers,” the exhibition’s curator Cheong Hye-in told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “It helps for people to connect easily with the photographs; to see a sort of darkness within each beautiful photo.”
Each photograph features an assembly of quite attractive people — typically young women — which represent different personas of Prager. The narratives for the photographs and for each model were based on Prager’s own thoughts and experiences. But the excessive makeup and flamboyant clothing, and sometimes even bizarre situations, make the photographs seem surreal.
“Speed Limit” (2019) shows a traffic jam on a highway, except there is a red car standing vertically with its passenger seat’s door swung wide open.
“Susie and Friends” (2008), one of Prager’s early works, is one of the highlights for “Alex Prager, Big West.” It is yet another major example of the unusual narratives of Prager’s works.
“It’s about a swimming pool party; everything looks fancy and everyone is drinking beer and it seems as though everyone is having a great time,” Cheong said. “But as Susie turns her head away, her friends’ facial expressions have very subtly changed — one is glaring at her and another girl looks like she is sneering at Susie. It makes one wonder what really is going on between them.”
A black-and-white magazine at the edge of the photograph shows the face of American singer Bobby Vinton, whose famous songs include “Mr. Lonely” (1964), as an element of mise-en-scène for Susie’s seemingly not-so-pleasant situation.
Prager is known to incorporate such elaborate techniques into her photographs for deeper, complex narratives.
Prager’s “Compulsion” series (2012) has two photographs paired alongside each other: Usually a scene of an absurd or tragic event and a shot of a single eye that is supposedly watching the said situation.
“7:12 pm Redcliff Ave and Eye #10 (Telephone Wires)” (2012) shows a woman caught tangled up in telephone lines during the night. The single eye next to it appears shocked and in disbelief, which has the role of “tensing up the situation and encourages a similar reaction from the viewers,” Cheong said.
Prager’s next series, “Face in the Crowd” (2012-15), features busy crowds, but they were intricately staged like a scene from a movie. With the viewpoint of like a surveillance camera from above, Prager carefully planned each and every precise detail, from the costumes and makeup to the poses and facial expressions of every one of the dozens of characters.
Prager gathered hundreds of actors and photographed them at public locations that are usually crowded, like an airport terminal, a conference hall lobby, a beach or a movie theater. One thing in common among the photographs in this series is that no one seems to really care about each other.
“Prager chose places where people tend to scurry on to go about their own way,” Cheong said. “When you look at each person in the photographs, they have their own story and sometimes you can even infer what their life is like. There are so many life stories to tell in these places among these people, so it’s like Prager’s small version of society.”
Prager tells the story of a ballerina who has stage fright and goes on stage to perform in the 10-minute short film “La Grande Sortie” (2016). The camera interchanges between the perspectives of both the ballerina and the people in the audience to the point where it becomes obscure who the performer is and who the spectator is.
“Prager has always wanted to say that everyone is an actor who plays out their own parts in life; that everyone is a protagonist in their own stage,” Cheong said.
A surprise lies at the end of the exhibition and it is a heartwarming acknowledgement to each and every visitor, for being the main character on our own stage called life.
“Alex Prager, Big West” continues until June 6. LMOA is open every day from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are 15,000 won ($12.10) for adults. For more information, visit lottemuseum.com
BY SHIN MIN-HEE [email@example.com]