New York

Hugo Robus

The sculpture of Hugo Robus (American, 1885–1964) is not very good and does little more than clarify conclusions about Nadelman, and increase appreciation of him. Both are involved with the idea of modernizing figurative sculpture but the difference is not just great, it is infinite. In Robus’ case “stream lining” is a literary device. Water Carrier, for example, is a female figure with a jar for a head. Robus’ figures are not abbreviated, they are amputated. Other pieces depict serious universal themes and are titled Maternal, Figure in Grief, Despair. They look as if Keene, the creator of those big-eyed children, had switched to sculpture. A couple of marble figures, Black Bottom and The Splits, are livelier if only because more athletic, but in general Robus is never modern, only moderne. His work is snagged on bombast, sculptural and emotional clichés, and a period, Art Déco look, all the things Nadelman avoided with such ease he hardly gets credit. It is difficult to tell where Robus came from or, at any given point, where he might be going; his sources and ideas, like his use of material, are muddled and unclear. So finally, even Nadelman’s eclecticism has to be appreciated, along with the fact that he never freed himself completely of the past. The clarity with which he was able to designate and combine his sources, the degree to which his choices and his intelligence are visible in his work should not be taken for granted.

Roberta Smith