Tango displays the elegant and fluid geometries associated with the best of sculptor Elie Nadelman’s work. This European émigré developed a quality of playfulness, grace, and charm—hallmarks of his style—by distilling references to both folk art and the newer trends in abstraction in American art at the time.
Nadelman’s sculptures derive from observed nature: specifically performers, entertainers, members of elite and vaudeville society, pianists, conductors, hosts and hostesses, and, as illustrated here, dancing couples. To produce this work, Nadelman used cherry wood. He brushed the surface with gesso and then painted each figure, wiping and rubbing the wood in order to create an aged, roughened surface that resembles the American folk art sculptures he admired and collected.
Here, an elegantly dressed gentleman in black tie guides his graceful partner through the steps of the tango, a Latin American dance craze that raged in Europe and the United States during and after World War I. Although the tango is well known for its seductive qualities, this one is danced by a buttoned-up pair who perform its steps far from the ports of Buenos Aires. Nadelman simplifies forms, refining the curves and counter-curves, the masses and counter-masses. This sculpture becomes a playful image of the couple suspended in motion, gliding toward each other. Indeed, Nadelman’s skill resides in isolating the sexual energy of the dance and filling the empty spaces between the man and the woman, capturing the charged moment just before their hands clasp.