JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 large scale color photographs, framed in brown and unmatted, and hung in the entry area and the large back divided gallery. All of the works are chromogenic prints, made between 2008 and 2012. Each image is generally available in a small and large size; the small size is generally 39×49 (or reverse), in editions of 10, while the large size ranges from 55×70 to 69×88 (or reverse), in editions of 5. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Israeli photographer Adi Nes’ newest images are filled with a heightened sense of symbolic and allegorical tension. Taking a busy mix of allusions to Greek tragedy, stories from the Bible, and references to art history, and then filtering them through a contemporary kibbutz setting, he has created large scale staged photographic tableaux that teeter on the edge of formal melodrama.
Nearly all of Nes’ photographs are built on anxious contrasts and simmering conflicts: closed versus open spaces, inside versus outside, old versus young. Villagers fire guns from the verdant green of the pasture into the nearby woods, keeping invisible invaders away. Young men argue with an old farmer (sons and a father?) over the fate of a sharply horned goat. A teenage boy is surrounded by naked young women in a dark, underground grotto dripping with cool water. And chickens and bats with outstretched wings hang at the mercy of boys itching for confrontation. Each scene is like a pregnant pause before the action begins. Even the images that mimic recognizable works from art history have this sense of impending struggle; there is something more stoically defiant about the shovel holding Grant Wood lookalike and and more lonely about the Picasso Boy Leading a Horse doppelganger than the originals they echo. And Nes’ Greek tragedy references make the entire setting seem even more ominous; the serious choir singers belting out the words of the Greek chorus and the blind man telling his oracular news to the assembled crowd of men both reinforce a mood of enduring weariness.
All of these works feel carefully stage managed, the characters placed just so to maximize the thematic effect. It’s photography as dramatic theater, executed with formulaic precision and charged with strong emotions. But in wandering through these galleries, I had the distinct sense of viewing “Israeli Art” and wondering whether I was missing certain references and metaphors that would be obvious, or at least more powerful, to insiders. Perhaps Nes is like an age old storyteller or traveling raconteur, weaving snippets of other epic tales and familiar myths into the fabric of his contemporary parables, hoping to expose his audience to the universal nature of events that have occurred far away.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The smaller 39×49 prints range in price from $20000 to $42000. The larger 55×70 prints range between $28000 and $50000, while the 69×88 prints range between $40000 and $70000. Nes’ work has only been sporadically available in the secondary markets for photography in the past decade, with prices generally ranging between $6000 and $35000. But his works must have been more available in the contemporary art markets during that time, as I have seen sale results as high as $264000 mentioned in various articles. Companion shows to this one are running concurrently at Sommer Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv (here) and Galerie Praz-Delavallade in Paris (here).