by Garth Clark
In 1998 the feared and revered art critic David Hickey wrote in Artforum:
How far can you get from Serra and Gober and still be super? And still be baroque? Ron Nagle’s tiny, luminous, pseudo-vessels occupy that position. If Fabergé had lived in California, loved hot rods and surfboards, and been blessed with an impudent art-historical wit, on his best day he still couldn’t compete with Nagle. No larger than teacups, Nagle’s pieces shine, glow, swoop, curve, and blend—each with its own ghostly presence and haunting silhouette. We don’t know what they are, but, clearly, they couldn’t be better.
Hickey’s piece went viral and Nagle’s acceptance in the fine arts, already on the cusp of contemporary art, went into overdrive. His work has since been featured in the Venice Biennale, the subject of two retrospective exhibitions and three books, shown at Modern Art in London, and is now represented by New York dealer Matthew Marks, whose roster of artists includes Robert Gober, Jasper Johns, Rebecca Warren, and Martin Puryear.
At 80, Nagle is still at the top of his game, one of the leaders of those artists in the top canon who now work with ceramics as well. It is not just the power of color and surface that matters in Nagle’s art. Critic Charlotte Moser insists “all of Nagle’s work functions as a metaphor for social history”. His work is a collation of his social experience; many of his titles and invented art terms clearly function as social criticism.
In looking at the excellent group of works offered by Rago, one needs to approach them cautiously and not be sidetracked by their visual humor. As the critic Allan Artner wrote the Chicago Tribune, Nagle’s artworks “give a playful air to an enterprise that is profoundly serious….in which the gravity of every tiny decision tells.”