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
Elie Nadelman carved this couple dancing the tango
, a ballroom dance that was popular in the United States in the early twentieth century. Nadelman used natural, unpainted cherry wood for the couple’s bodies and outer garments, while their hands, heads, and the man’s shirt are painted in white gesso
and a few other colors. Each figure is carved from a single block of wood. The bases are arranged together and one arm of each figure extends beyond the front of its base to join the couple in the dance movement.
For this sculpture
, Nadelman avoided showing the most recognizable tango step, where the dancers move forward with hands joined and arms clasped tightly around each other’s back. Instead, he selected a moment in the dance when the couple separates, perhaps as they prepare for their next move. Even though the couple’s hands and heads come close and their eyes seem to meet in a shared gaze, they do not touch.