Critics’ Picks

Ron Nagle, Silent Witness, 2021, ceramic, catalyzed polyurethane, and epoxy resin, 4 3/4 x 3 1/2 x 5 1/4".

Ron Nagle, Silent Witness, 2021, ceramic, catalyzed polyurethane, and epoxy resin, 4 3/4 x 3 1/2 x 5 1/4".

New York

Ron Nagle

Matthew Marks Gallery | 523 West 24th Street
523 West 24th Street
September 11–October 23, 2021

For more than fifty-five years, Ron Nagle has asserted his quixotic mind and humor throughout a wildly creative life in both sculpture and, perhaps lesser known to art audiences, music. His latest exhibition, “Necessary Obstacles,” presents eighteen new characteristically small objects fashioned from clay, epoxy resin, and catalyzed polyurethane, along with six drawings. Having investigated the cup form’s possibilities for decades, Nagle constructs grotto-like microarchitectures less than six inches high in these recent works, which delineate exterior/interior divides.

Some sculptures evoke biomorphic huts, while colorfully offset slit openings tease unviewable recesses in other pieces. Inspired by the Japanese shibui aesthetic, the artist holds contradiction close at hand, contrasting rough textured clay slabs with smooth and viscous nonceramic materials that spill over their squared-off edges—liquids locked into a fixed position, like frozen syrups or melted wax sealings. Only the Homely, 2021, riffs on the title of a Roy Orbison song and reflects the sculptor’s jocosity. Its foregrounded protuberance of raw broken clay serves as a reminder of his study under legendary ceramics maverick Peter Voulkos. Nagle’s obsessive firing and finishing techniques can produce otherworldly qualities that emphasize the more graphic elements of his output. The cerulean cube of stuccoed and pitted clay in Silent Witness, 2021, appears resolutely two-dimensional, a kind of reverse trompe l’oeil that resembles a chromatized lunar surface photo.

The bizarre scenarios Nagle conjures in sculpture match the strange character studies in his songwriting (such as 1970’s “Sister Cora,” a throat-fraying rocker seemingly about a faith healer), yet a full story is always elusive. (He states that art “gave me my own secret life.”) Thankfully he shares some enigmas and would-be private jokes with us in his precise but mischievous pieces: He is a trickster working within limitations, finding fresh arrangements each time. Nagle has pulled off the feat of being consistently weird, never devolving into predictable shenanigans.