With an exhibition currently up at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (her first U.S. solo museum show, in fact), a two-venue show of new works opening on January 9 at Lehmann Maupin’s Chelsea and Lower East Side locations, and an exhibition opening January 25 at L.A.'s M+B Gallery, Alex Prager has officially broken through in the art world. The 34-year-old photographer, who frequently takes pictures for W magazine, is presenting new large-scale works and a new film featuring Elizabeth Banks at both the Corcoran and Lehmann Maupin. We spoke to Prager about her obsession with classic film, her wig collection, and Steinbeck.
Name: Alex Prager
City/Neighborhood: Los Angeles (Silver Lake)
Much of your work seems to be inspired by vintage Hollywood. Hitchcock in particular. What sources do you look to for inspiration? Have there been particular films or photographic works that have been muses?
“Birds,” “Songs from the Second Floor,” “Night of the Hunter,” “Blue Velvet,” “Orpheus,” “Meshes of the Afternoon.”
The Corcoran show features a new film starring Elizabeth Banks. In your “New Photography” presentation at MoMA in 2010 there was a film with Bryce Dallas Howard. Do you ever think about directing feature-length films?
I do. Films are very challenging and I can only imagine how much more intense a full-length feature would be.
This is your first solo museum show in the US. How does it feel to be getting that kind of institutional recognition?
The Corcoran is a historical American museum. It is an honor to have them show my work.
What project are you working on now?
The project of rest and coming down. I feel a bit deflated. Happy, but deflated.
What’s the last show that you saw?
I saw Beck's “Song Reader” at the L.A. Philharmonic. It was one night only, very special.
What’s the last show that surprised you? Why?
I know you mean visual art, but the last show I saw that surprised me was a choir performing “Carmina Burana.” The moment they started singing I was hit hard with emotion.
Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.
Coffee, emails, more emails, Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop, rest. Somewhere in there I eat.
Do you make a living off your art?
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
My wig collection.
Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
In Los Angeles. This city just gives and gives.
Do you collect anything?
Vintage clothing and wigs.
What is your karaoke song?
4 Non Blondes’ “What's Going On?”
What’s the last artwork you purchased?
A strange little ostrich portrait by Asger Carlsen
What’s the first artwork you ever sold?
$300. It was a black and white photo that I took on the street at one of those NY card-playing scams. I was really young. I naively believed they would double my money if I guessed the right card. Instead, before they even gave me a chance, they grabbed $300 cash from my hands and ran. I managed to take a picture of the guy as he was grabbing for my money. It's all in the shot, the money, the box with the cards on it, and the guy trying to cover his face from the camera. I sold that picture at my first show for exactly $300.
What’s the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
I think the weirdest things I've witnessed came while I was participating in crits at Yale earlier this year. I like how the students are pushing themselves to think in new ways about photography and sometimes that meant things got really strange… We never knew what we were going to be in for.
What’s your art-world pet peeve?
When art theory becomes more important than the art.
What’s your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?
Elf Café for good food.
Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?
No. To be honest I'm usually too busy to get to all the shows. I'm going to try to make that more of a thing.
What’s the last great book you read?
I just read “The Wayward Bus” by Steinbeck. You can't go wrong with him.
What work of art do you wish you owned?
I want a Baldessari in my house.
What would you do to get it?
I could offer a trade or an incredibly long payment plan, because I certainly can't afford to pay cash for it.
What international art destination do you most want to visit?
I haven't spent enough time in Berlin yet.
What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?
My sister, Vanessa Prager makes strange and beautiful paintings. She is 5 years younger than me and mostly known in L.A., so far.
Who’s your favorite living artist?
Doug Aiken is always doing something cool.
What are your hobbies?
Cooking, tennis, ceramics, renovating my house.