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Elie Nadelman

Tango

1920–24

Elie Nadelman, Tango, 1920–24  88.1a-c  
Elie Nadelman, Tango, 1920–24. Painted cherry wood and gesso, three units, 35 7/8 × 26 × 13 7/8 in. (91.1 × 66 × 35.2 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Mr. and Mrs. Arthur G. Altschul Purchase Fund, the Joan and Lester Avnet Purchase Fund, the Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch Purchase Fund, the Mrs. Robert C. Graham Purchase Fund in honor of John I.H. Baur, the Mrs. Percy Uris Purchase Fund, and the Henry Schnakenberg Purchase Fund in honor of Juliana Force  88.1a-c  On view For Teachers

about this work

After emigrating to the United States from Poland in 1914, Elie Nadelman became a key figure in the movement to synthesize classicism and abstraction in American sculpture. Nadelman began to represent genre subjects—dancers, musicians, and circus performers—in a sleek, simple style. His exploration of these vernacular subjects paralleled his burgeoning enthusiasm for American folk art, as did his use of painted wood rather than the more traditional bronze or marble. In Tango, Nadelman used raw cherry wood to indicate the figures’ bodies and outer garments, painting only the hands, faces, and the man’s shirt. The slim, elongated pair dance the tango, a new Argentine dance that became popular in America just before World War I. Nadelman’s composition, however, emphasizes the stylized elegance of the dance rather than its passion and sensuality. The artist avoided the most recognizable tango step, where the dancers stride forward with hands joined and arms clasped tightly about each other’s back, and selected instead a moment in the choreography where the dancers separate. Formally and materially reinforcing this distance, the blocks of wood form which the man and woman were carved are also separate, as are the bases on which they rest.

Audio

Audio guide stop for Elie Nadelman, Tango, 1920–24

Elie Nadelman, Tango, 1920–24  88.1a-c  
Elie Nadelman, Tango, 1920–24  88.1a-c  On view

look closer

What do you think this couple is doing? How do you know?

What are they wearing?

In which direction do you think the couple is moving? How can you tell?

Which details did the artist include? What did he leave out?

Describe what you think might happen next.

Activities

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Elie Nadelman, Tango, 1920–24  88.1a-c  On view For Teachers

Elie Nadelman carved this couple dancing the tango, a ballroom dance that first appeared in 1900 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Performed to slow, rhythmic music, the dance requires fluid movement and close contact between partners. Nadelman used natural, unpainted cherry wood to define the couple’s bodies and outer garments, while their hands, faces, and the man’s shirt are painted in white gesso and other colors.

Look closely at this work with your students. How does Nadelman show that these figures are dancing? What direction might they be moving? What might happen next? Have your students think about their favorite dance. What do they look like when they’re dancing? Do they wear any special clothes? As a class, have each student ‘freeze’ themselves into a position from their dance. How would they translate that ‘frozen moment’ into a sculpture?

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