Critics’ Picks

Ron Nagle, Two sets of books, 2016, ceramic, catalyzed polyurethane, epoxy resin, 4 x 3 x 3".

Ron Nagle, Two sets of books, 2016, ceramic, catalyzed polyurethane, epoxy resin, 4 x 3 x 3".


Ron Nagle

Modern Art Helmet Row
4-8 Helmet Row
June 2–July 8, 2017

The first artwork in outer space, the so-called Moon Museum, is a stamp-size ceramic panel on which four Minimalist designs have been etched alongside a Mickey Mouse head by Claes Oldenburg and rude graffiti by Andy Warhol. As a gesture of goodwill toward alien passersby, NASA should consider Ron Nagle’s trippy ceramics for future moon-monuments. They’re easily transportable, and there’s a chance a hitchhiking non-Tellurian might recognize, among the slabs, blobs, and prongs, some cheering reminder of home.

A rock musician as well as an artist, Nagle has been exhibiting since the mid 1960s. His work, like that of the late Ken Price, started from an engagement with near-functional vessels (cups, jugs) and gradually evolved into a psychedelic and occasionally scatological take on post-Brancusi object-making. This show features fourteen new works. Four pieces in the first room have been placed in vitrines set into walls, emphasizing the influence of painters, particularly Morandi, on the artist. A second room of objects features eleven vitrine-bound works on pedestals, viewable in the round. Works on paper occupy a room behind the desk.

Each sculpture contains several molded and glazed sections. Smooth, blob-like forms are set into larger, darkly iridescent blocks with rough textures. The glossy red tongue in Two sets of books, 2016, suggests a human presence in the way it slumps into its support. Squint, and you might also see a Martian conversation pit, a blasted tree stump, Dracula’s grave, or dueling narwhals. But nothing recognizable seems intended. Instead, it’s his consistent denial of any obvious formal affinity that makes Nagle’s protean oeuvre so compelling.