12 December, 2014 — 08 March, 2015
Adi Nes’ carefully staged works are inspired by scenes from art history, biblical stories and the complex political situation in Israel. In oversized color, staged photographs, he paints his childhood experiences and military service in homoerotic overtones. Adi Nes creates layers upon layers of history, religion, politics and sexuality.
a typical representative of Israel
Adi Nes is one of the most famous and respected artists in Israel. A son of Jewish immigrants from Iran who came to Israel in the 1950s, he grew up in Kiryat Gat, a small town on the periphery. Different from others – a sensitive boy in a macho society who is Gay, Sephardic and from a low socio-economic background – he has become a typical representative of Israel: a homosexual father of 4 children who has a successful international career based in Tel Aviv. Yet he defines Israel as “a small place after a catastrophe in which existential fear never leaves it, as in my pictures”.
Adi Nes raises questions and garners inspiration from his life. From the stereotypically patriotic Israeli man who is strong and invulnerable, to Jewish and even Queer identity.Is there room for showing feelings and vulnerability?
Adi Nes’ work has many layers and many references to famous historical works of art, contemporary photography, mythology, film, media and news journalism. He interrelates old and new Israel, past and present; stories and characters from the Bible are given new life when he places them in contemporary, often urban settings.
Adi Nes regards photography as a medium that allows him to convey his view of the world and explore masculine and Israeli identity. His large-scale images are meticulously staged, illuminated and technically brilliant. They are inspired by realistic Baroque imagery in which dark shadows play against strong light, accentuating figures and objects, without attempting to idealise people or environments. His emotionally charged compositions are rich in detail and references and make the viewer want to delve deeper into the stories that are enacted in the images.
Raising questions about gender and identity, he wants to bring out the person behind the uniform
The exhibition presents four of Adi Nes’ most significant series of photographs: Soldiers (1994-2000), Boys (2000), Biblical Stories (2004-2007) and The Village(2013).
In Biblical Stories, the artist interprets narratives from the Old Testament, positioning them in a new, contemporary context by constructing homeless people who’ve lost their identity. On the mythical foundation of biblical stories, Adi Nes describes the revolution experienced by a modern state from yearning to be a utopian society full of ideals of equality, socialistic values and mutual care, to actually being a society of occupation, capitalism, alienation and vast social gaps.
Adi Nes’ Soldiers series is deceptive. On the one hand, the images appear as if they worship the strong, while on the other hand, the soldiers are portrayed as, subdued and vulnerable. A key work in the series paraphrases Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in which the apostles are portrayed as young Israeli soldiers. Raising questions about gender and identity, he wants to bring out the person behind the uniform.
In the Boys series, based on Greek Mythology, Nes returns to his childhood landscape in the periphery and to the drab public housing. There he looks at how masculine identity and intimacy are formed. The realistic world, full of senses, and full of the boys’ pain, transforms into a local mythology – one which echoes earlier myths.
In his latest series, The Village, he returns to the vision of Israel his mother used to sing about when he was a little boy. Often, the lyrics told idealised tales of the pioneers of modern day Israel. Under the surface, however, things are no longer perfect. It is like a dream that is larger and better than life itself, but which has layers of fear and horror, Adi Nes explains. “The country started with a dream, and then more and more, we decided to ignore the dreams. I’m trying to bring myself back to the dream without forgetting the reality.” It is also a project about growing up, about having the ability to deal with contradictions and opposites in order to exist and survive”.
Adi Nes has an ambivalent attitude to the traditional image of the male: “On the one hand I am attracted to him and I wish to stand on an equal footing with him...
...But, on the other hand, I am critical about the close-mindedness, the pathetic and unsuccessful attempt to hide emotions and sensitivity.”
Adi Nes is an outsider, an observer who is outside looking in
Like the great Baroque painter Caravaggio, Adi Nes’ models come from the street. “I’m looking for a type of beauty that is part of life, including scratches and blemishes. My artistic endeavours are part of my life’s reality so I want my subjects and their physical appearance to reflect this. Choosing unknown and unpolished faces helps me achieve a certain level of believability in the picture.”
However, history is not his only source of inspiration. He also bases works on pictures of himself, from films and books. The important thing is how he succeeds in interweaving different narratives, impressions and topics into a completely new image.
He says that he tries to work with multiple layers in order to reach different aspects of life. The central theme is male identity, which is closely related to political and religious issues.
Adi Nes is an outsider, an observer who is outside looking in, creating works that reflect a complex, changing society, with its drawbacks and challenges. “All these different layers (of my works) live within me side-by-side,” he says.
Adi Nes was born in Kiryat Gat, a small town south of Tel Aviv, bordering the desert, though he now lives in the north of the country with his partner and their 4 children who were born through surrogacy.
Nes studied photography in Jerusalem and multimedia in Tel Aviv. In addition to his artistic work, he has taught at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem since 2002. He also frequently lectures at universities around the world.
Adi Nes’ works have been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego and the Melkweg Gallery in Amsterdam. He has also contributed to group exhibitions at, among others, the Jewish Museum in New York and the Orsay Museum in Paris. He is represented at many major museums around the world.
Art works on loan from Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, and Göttesdiener Collection, Munich.