The present work is one of three bronzes of Tango cast by the Modern Art Foundry in 1974 under the direction of the artist's son, Jan Nadelman. The bronzes were cast after the painted cherrywood executed by Elie Nadelman circa 1918. Two cherrywood versions are known; one formerly owned by Lincoln Kirstein is now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the second was previously owned by Edith Halpert of The Downtown Gallery. A painted plaster model was destroyed.
On January 1, 1914, a New York Times headline reported, “All New York Now Madly Whirling in the Tango.” (as quoted in Frames of Reference: Looking at American Art, 1900-1950, Works from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1999, p. 198) Elie Nadelman returned later that year to New York after several years in Paris establishing his reputation as a sculptor and forming connections among famed patroness Gertrude Stein’s circle. With his participation in the 1913 Armory Show the prior year, Nadelman was quickly accepted into New York bohemian circles and established close relationships with other American artists, including Florine Stettheimer and Paul Manship. He soon caused a sensation with his Folk Art influenced sculptures, which transform characters of New York daily life into elegant streamlined forms, often infused with satiric wit. At once modern and timeless, Tango interprets the newly-imported Argentinian dance craze into an interlocking pair of the artist’s iconic figurative sculptures.
Barbara Haskell writes, “the elegantly stylized genre figures Nadelman showed in 1925,” which included a cherrywood version of Tango, “are among the masterpieces of twentieth-century American sculpture. Cast in bronze or constructed from pieces of cherry wood…these pieces radiated an insistent classicism that recalled the lessons he had learned in Munich and Paris. With their solid forms and clearly defined volumes, works…resonated with an archaic simplicity and solemn monumentality absent from their more whimsical plaster prototypes…He had reduced shape to elemental, readily grasped geometries, but unlike artists such as Maillol and Brancusi, whose work conveyed a sense of static repose, Nadelman has emphasized gesture by freezing actions at their most iconic, expressive point.” (Elie Nadelman: Sculptor of Modern Life, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2003, p. 130)
Indeed, famed contemporary sculptor Martin Puryear focused on the expressive postures of the figures, and the resulting energy within the work, in his description of Tango: “I am first of all moved by the way Nadelman stacked three distinct gestures on top of one another in each figure, mirroring them to achieve a kind of energy which is both static and rhythmical at the same time. The legs of both figures drive forward, but the man’s step is crisp, almost formal, while the woman’s is all spiraling curves. Then the arms. They reach across as if to counter the legs’ forward momentum, creating a figure eight, a symbol for infinity. Tango means ‘I touch’ in Latin. The dancers’ hands almost touch, but don’t. The final gesture belongs to the heads. Turned one-quarter inward, restrained, serene, their gazes intersect at right angles somewhere in space. The dancers acknowledge one another only from the waist up. Without touching or direct eye contact they connect across a synapse charged with symmetry.” (Frames of Reference, p. 200)