Curator: Smadar Keren
Ada Ovadia’s exhibition includes two series of paintings from 2019: ‘Human Animal Calendar’ and ‘Boys Calendar’ – from a new body of work of four series in the same format (the other two are ‘Girls Calendar’ and ‘Where Have You Been Calendar,’ the latter as yet unfinished). They were created out of reflection on auto-shop calendars. Each contains twelve works, like the months of the year. For the first time, she also presents two large sculptures – objects that seem as if they have been lifted from her paintings.
In both series in the show, each painting is a portrait of a figure seemingly captured in the artist’s lens. In ‘Human Animal Calendar,’ the likenesses are of animals and human figures, women mostly. The other series shows images of youths, some with feminine attributes or with non-binary gender. Their characteristics are recognizable from Ovadia’s past work, as part of her pictorial language, in which figures, anthropomorphized objects, severed limbs, and hybrid creatures take part in absurd syntaxes that generate wild plots and worlds of bind beauty and pain together. Among them, the feminine body, the black figure, and animals take center stage as disadvantaged entities in an unjust world that needs to be corrected. In her paintings, female figures often appear facing oppressive forces, alongside black characters and bound and crucified figures, all in positions that convey injustices in power and exploitative relationships. In the current series, Ovadia moves the discussion about power structures to scenes of intimate moments between groups manifesting inherent control relations, such as between hunter and prey, domesticator and domesticated, master and slave. This time she creates a new space for her players: between the figures and the animals in ‘Human Animal Calendar,’ interactions of resemblance or assimilation are clearly developing – one figure penetrates another, merges with it, or shares a visual attribute, sometimes to the point of twinness. All the while, the discomfort typical of Ovadia’s work is preserved here: out of the intimacy growing between the characters, “crime scenes” emerge in the form of jagged collars, chains, knives, and bleeding body parts, but they do not seem to disturb the completeness of the figures’ world. In ‘Boys Calendar,’ the youths are shown in situations of delight and pleasure – each figure in its own world, in an intimate moment celebrating freedom and devoid of taboos. It seems to be an enclosed, relaxed space, complete and idyllic, where identities seem to blur and roles are reversed – the hunter and the prey are equals.
The reversal is reinforced by the decision to frame the paintings as a calendar, inspired by a photographic format that is quintessentially objectifying. Here it serves in a new meaning, where the painted images define the rules of their display. Furthermore, for the first time, Ovadia names the works in the presented series. She uses allegedly factual titles ranging from sensual, humorous descriptions (“Anita Has a Snake!” or “Blow-up Rabbit, Weeping Willow, and a Cocktail”) to explicit statements that take a stand (“Make a Wish and Scram,” “Hallelujah to Solidarity”), placing another speaker that separates the viewers from the observed figures.
The two sculptures placed between the painting series at both ends of the space are like enlarged images taken from her paintings and translated into material language. ‘Lunch Time’ (2021) has two parts: a large yellow face made from a stiff towel and a pole with a bowl at its end for a head. The translation into the physical is evident also in the way Ovadia uses objects from domestic environments, which have been part of many of her paintings (the bathroom, the kitchen, the studio) as well as in the formal resonating of coded images from earlier works (an obvious return to the Smiley images from the ‘Jesus’ series from 2021). The second sculpture (from 2005), at the entrance to the exhibition, is a very early work, never displayed before. It is a dense, viscous, centerless object, a dark, sticky, furry lump. It hangs from the ceiling but remains slumped, its edges spilling to the floor. The object seems like a black continent in a state of collapse, burning, or freezing. We watch it from above, like in a bird’s-eye view, as witnesses to an apocalyptic event or a horrible, enigmatic catastrophe.
Different from the paintings, which in Ovadia’s work are expressed as quick flashes of pictures that pour out of her consciousness at a dizzying, uncontrollable pace, the three-dimensional sculptural medium that demands dealing with a physical presence in space – a calculated action that requires advance planning and staying in place. Their positioning in the exhibition alongside the painting series affords, more than before, a peek into Ovadia’s way of thinking, which constantly generates vital universes, throbbing and timeless, unparalleled.
Space design: David Chaki; Installation: Pavel Spirin
Producer: Yael Dayan; Graphic Design: The League
Installation view photo: Yigal Pardo