A Soldier Named Desire

An Israeli Artist Confronts the Icon of the Warrior

Nes's art is all about the ambiguities of intimacy between men—a bond as potent and elusive as a puff of strong cigarette smoke. In fact, that's just what one of his most resonant photos shows. In this image, a stubbled soldier has blown a smoke ring around his friend's raised finger. Perceived in a certain way, the puff could be a wedding band—or even a sphincter. To a less aroused viewer, it's just an artifact of camaraderie. "I can see something in the air that maybe doesn't exist," says Nes. "It's a moment only someone gay can feel. It's there all the time, but you will feel it only if you notice it."

Yet, if you leave this show with a stiffie you'll have noticed only the surface below the surface. "There is always something beyond something and beneath something," Nes explains. What makes his work more than the usual everyone-is-gay fantasy is that something lies under even the homoeroticism. What is it? I ask. "Desire," he replies—but not just in the sexual sense. "Desire is the gasoline of human behavior," says Nes. To regard this fuel as good or bad is to miss the nature of erotic energy and its impact on reality.

People cannot be perfected; desire cannot be contained. This is a very gay epiphany, but also a Jewish one. In Nes's art, Tennessee Williams meets Isaac Bashevis Singer. But what could be more whitebread American these days than watching a soldier called desire advance across the desert? Our homegrown warriors are not as hardened as the Israelis, or as sultry—not yet. Gazing at their exuberant faces, I don't know whether to feel moved or repulsed. This complex of emotions has become very familiar to me, I tell Nes. He nods: "Me, too."

photo: Adi Nes/courtesy Jack Shainman gallery

Adi Nes's work can be seen at the Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street, through April 12.

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