NARRATOR: Between 1938 and 1946, Elie Nadelman produced hundreds of figurines, most no more than a foot high. He began each by sculpting a small figure in Plastilene, a non-hardening clay. He’d then cast multiple versions of these figures in plaster. Those casts became a basis for improvisation. He’d sometimes draw on them with pencils, carve into them with small instruments like penknives and forks, sand their surfaces, or dip them in liquid plaster. Most of them have rough surfaces and seem to have been caught in the midst of an incomplete transformation.
For most of his career Nadelman’s sculpture had been the height of refinement. By contrast, these miniatures are odd and indeterminate—fascinatingly so. Classical Greek terracottas were among Nadelman’s inspirations, but so were burlesque performers and kewpie dolls. At moments the resulting figurines seem sexual, at others they appear to have a childlike innocence. Sometime these states coexist—uncomfortably—in a single work.