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Friedrich Nagler Discovered

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15 yr old Cate Deacon shares what she learnt about Friedrich Nagler during her work experience at Hove Museum – including her interview with members of the award-winning charity Outside In.

Friedrich Nagler was a Vienna born Jewish artist, who escaped Nazi occupation in 1938. He eventually settled in Hampshire and passed away in 2009.

A photo of the artist Friedrich Nagler

He is known for his incredible collection of work, with thousands of pieces and the range of materials used. Just some of his known materials include:

  • Bread – this is probably one of the most unusual materials that Nagler used. He carved and cut faces into toast and bread.
  • Nuts and bolts and nails.

Bread sculptures by Friedrich Nagler

  • Metal – some of Nagler’s bigger work was made out of commonly found pieces of metal and plastics that he used to create the effect he was after.
  • Nagler carved bone into faces and small animals

    Plastic cable and wire – his smaller pieces that came in thousands were made from things like big cable ties and wires.

  • Animal bone. In a short award-winning film that you can see at Hove Museum during the exhibition: ‘Friedrich’ (2011) – a documentary exploring the life and work of unknown artist Friedrich Nagler (directed by Kitty McMahon, produced and edited by Natalia Mirsaka), Nagler’s son recalls his own wife going to slaughter houses and collecting things like horse bone for Nagler to use. Not only did he make the small faces from the bone, he also created small animal sculptures.

As you can see, Nagler had a wide range of materials and was always saving sustainable materials, and even non-recyclable materials such as stickers from apples, paper seals from milk bottles and bottle tops.

Nagler’s exhibition at Hove Museum is all thanks to an award-winning charity called Outside In. It works to provide opportunities and a platform for artists facing barriers to the art world, as a result it offers extremely important support. To find out more about the work it does and the Nagler exhibition I spoke to two people from Outside In, Exhibitions Coordinator Cornelia Marland (C) and Communications Coordinator Laura Miles (L)

Why did you want to have an exhibition on Nagler?

C: He is a fantastic example of a non-traditional artist, as he had no formal training and that fits our organisation so well.

L: His work gives such an insight to the passion he had for creating, as can be seen from his resourcefulness as he worked with what he had.

What are some of your personal favourite pieces that he did?

C: I really like the animal sculptures, I find it amazing how he could represent an animal so well with using only a few nuts and bolts.

L: The bread, because it’s so unexpected and really makes you think – as does a lot of the work by Outside In’s artists – about what art can be .

What do you like specifically about his work?

C: The range of materials used is so varied which is very rare to see. Even by visiting this small exhibition of his works you can get a sense of this.

Faces in everyday objects made with imagination and humour.

L: And there’s also a sense of humour about his work, his ingenuity makes you smile. One of the most rewarding parts of the build up to the exhibition for me was speaking to his sons as you get a sense of what their family lifestyle was like due to their father’s compulsion to make art.

Do you think Nagler was trying to portray something through his work? If so, what?

C: His son’s, Martin and Mervyn Nagler, told us during a recent event at the museum that they think that some of his work comes from his early experiences, for example there are some sculptural heads with two faces and that might show the people in his life in Vienna changing under Nazi occupation.

C: One of his close friends actually became an SS officer and his son’s mentioned how this had a big impact on him. It’s clear that art was also a therapeutic practice for him.

Do you know roughly how many pieces Nagler produced in his lifetime?

C: The Nagler family are still cataloguing it actually, but there will be thousands.

L: Just for this exhibition alone we had more than 1,300 pieces to select from.

C: But I think that the fact he created so much, shows his real passion and need to create.

How did Nagler keep his bread work in good condition?

C: It could have been a varnish, or a paste that he put over, it looks like they may have been baked as well.

C: Although there was some bread that didn’t survive, it was clear he took great care in preserving it, his son’s mentioned that he didn’t like the heating being on too long since it might ruin his artwork.

What is the material Nagler used most frequently?

C:  You can see from this exhibition that he used a variety of different materials such as metal, plastic, bone and found objects.

L: The work acts like a diary really, you can tell what factory he worked at when he made a certain piece from the materials he could get.

What made you want to start working at Outside In?

C: I’ve always been interested with working with artists from all different backgrounds and ran a gallery in London called Geddes Gallery. I had been aware of Outside In for some time and worked with many of their partner organisations in a freelance capacity so had a sense of the important work they did.

L: I spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, so it was definitely something different, but my background is the arts and English. The fact it offered a chance to combine my skills with my interests was a real draw and it has surpassed my hopes as being able to share the inspirational stories about these artists with the world is extremely rewarding.

Do you have a favourite success story from an artist your organisation has helped?

C: When I first joined Outside In an artist called Rakibul Chowdhury had also recently signed up as an artist. He was working with an art group called ‘Art Invisible’ when someone from Outside In visited the group and encouraged him to sign up. Raki’s work was taken to the Outsider Art Fair in Paris in 2017 where it was very popular, it has since been exhibited at Sotheby’s and Cerno Capital as part of an exhibition called ‘Outside In: Discover’. Raki has attended most of the exhibitions and it’s been wonderful seeing his confidence grow after witnessing so many people enjoying his artwork.

L: Clarke Reynolds is one of the first artists I interviewed. He describes himself as a ‘blind visual artist’ and says that with a smile. His work is a great example of reconsidering what you think you know about art. For instance what is a still life to someone who can’t see it? One of his pieces called If Cezanne can do it so can I answers this, it is an abstract painting  sprayed with citrus juice and exhibited with the sounds of fruit being chopped and squeezed so even if you walked into the room with your eyes closed your other senses could tell you what it was. He is really keen to share his story and show that being blind is not the end of a journey, even when you want to do a job that usually is very visual, but that it can be just the beginning.

What are the most rewarding things about working for Outside In?

C: For me it’s getting to see the artists reaction when their art is up in a museum or gallery. 

L: It’s also seeing the audience’s reaction to seeing the work. Many will walk into a gallery or exhibition and have expectations of what they will find, the work of Outside In’s artists opens people’s eyes. Whether it is due to the inspiration it draws from or the materials it is made from, you can see the impact it has on the viewer.

Cate Deacon, work experience student at Hove Museum