Nadelman aimed at a High Style of bravura elegance and technical virtuosity based on historic absolutes. Our present taste is for low style, repudiating historicity. Pop, op, minimal, mixed-media systematically improvised, obsolescent by policy, the art of today has neither past, future, nor ambition to be compared with other art of long survival. Nadelman’s craft was rooted in continuities he wished to extend, adapting rediscovery to new considerations of scale, material and use, suiting his own time, seen not as a fading year, but as one fixed date. First, he set himself an exercise of analyzing origins and succession of Western sculpture deriving from Aegean civilization, from Pheidias through the heirs of Alexander’s artisans. In this pursuit he paralleled that of another East European. . . . Stravinsky, the grandest imitator in music, has noted that artists may never be more themselves than when they transform models.
Nadelman seldom vaunted himself as an original, nor was idiosyncrasy attractive until Romanticism. Few Elizabethan or Augustan poets, few baroque or rococo artists saw themselves as originators, yet personality is as apparent in poem or painting as fingerprints. Nadelman had no interest in utilizing subjective striving or neurosis. He struggled; he was no less neurotic than his neighbor, but he always presupposed capacities to do as he pleased. His pleasure was the refinement in terms of plastic form of an ordering historicity apart from and far beyond his accidental self. If he was “narcissistic” (in Freud’s sense), this may be found less self-love than an adoration of tradition and craft with which he identified himself, to whose immutable logic he bore witness. . . .
His marbles are burlesque divinities, their confident bosoms stockinged over with a criss-cross, see-through reticulation suggesting skin tights of circus riders, trapeze artists, or ballet dancers. . . . Their glorified godmothers appeared in Justinian’s circus alongside Theodora, a tumbler who came to be crowned empress. Their legitimate grandmothers worked for Barnum and Bailey, their mothers for Ziegfeld or Minsky. Nadelman was orchestrator of gestures, a symphonic conductor of plastic silhouettes. His statues propose standards useful in measuring the still limitless dynamics of human virtuosity.