Nandor Glid

Spaces of blazing arabesques 

“Art is not always pleasurable” – said Nandor Glid on a certain occasion, empha-sizing thereby that the task of a modern artist was closely associated with the solving of numerous problems, often larger than the creative ones, and that the vocabulary ofmodeling and the sense of plastic form were paths and goals not easily reached by shortcuts, but on the contrary, as the author stressed, that task represented a laborious progress through foreseeable, and more frequently unforeseeable technical, technological, methodological and other obstacles, and networks of unpredictable elements. Therefore, and particularly in the art of sculpture, only a few authors leave a prolific opus; they rarely and almost unwillingly decide to have solo exhibitions because they are burdened by serious misgivings regarding the values, cultural significance and public impact of their work. Nandor Glid is one of those, and in our art certainly one with the highest sense of responsibility, both toward himself and his audience. 

The essential subject matter of this sculpture: the destiny of a nation (primarily the Jewish people to whom he belongs) remains a steadfast, unchangeable leitmotif of his entire opus. Although he used to be fond of portraits in his youth, Glid has always sustained a concern for collective destiny, which he also directly shared (violent death of his parents in concentration camps, suffering of closest friends in his native Subotica and in Szeged, where he was deported to a labor camp, or with his fellotw partisans – he himself was also wounded…). 

Nandor Glid has worked on sculptures reliefs, portraits, figures, compositions and public monuments, and in the foreground of all sculptural form he decided to work on there has always been a drawing, later evolving into specific spatial arabesques. 

Knowing that “ornamental qualities are present in (his) work”, that the issue of drawing and the drawing has a perceptible and fundamental role in his work, Glid once remarked: “I find the drawing of utmost importance. I have never made a sculpture without having first drawn what I wanted to model. It is possible that the drawing is too obvious in my early works”, but also in those that followed. When talking about one of his major works – the monument to Yugoslav victims in Mauthausen (1957), Glid noticed: “It is particularly important that everything is done as a pure drawing in space”. Mauthausen is in fact an awful spatial ornament, a borrible arabesque made of human bones, parts of the skeleton and arms in mortal convuhion. This dramatic motif appears later in several variations, like in the monument for the Holocaust victims erected on Yad Vashem, near Jerusalem (1979). In an unusual, bur not unaccountable, way his works done as monuments and public sculptures in big formats convey no monumental grandeur but intimacy, they almost resemble private notes on powerful impressions, deeply stamped into his soul and memory. 

Nandor Glid was one of the Yugoslav artists who paved the path of modern expression. Like many of his colleagues he points out that Henry Moore’s exhibition, held in Belgrade in 1955, left an enormous and decisive impact on him (“until then we did not have much opportunity to see, and, indeed, did not seek to see what was going on in contemporarj art”). However, since he had traveled before (study tours to Paris in 1953, and Greece, Cyprus, Israel in 1955) he got to know the values of modern art, from its very beginnings, from Rodin, a long-time paragon (possibly because of his implicit Gothic forms), whose influence he managed to overcome through Bourdelle (who disclosed new paths and directions), Brancusi and, particularly, Giacometti (“although it is not obvious in my sculptures”), as well as authors previously neglected by critics, Julio Gonzalez and David Smith, whose icons Glid understood as appropriate visual symbols of a feeling of numen or mystery, or perhaps of unknown dimensions of emotions and experience (after Herbert Read). 

At the beginning, by applying a specific realistic procedure Glid would reduce form insisting on the psychological structure of the model. Later he definitely chose to work on problems of plastic composition compressing forms into expressive (spatial) arabesques, coming close to the very problems of associative abstraction, but never crossing the borderline. His themes of suffering, dying, destruction, burning, ethnic cleansing on behalf of higher causes did not permit use of the vocabulary of non-objective art, because monuments have to be the expression of the time, as he once said in 1975, precisely defining the poetics of his style. Some time earlier (in 1967, his monument to Jewish victims in Subotica) and under the same impression he made his “Ballad of the Gallows”; like all his anti-fascist monuments, it is a continuing reminder to our present day local, small führers, who strive for global significance of imminent fate transposed in the message he used to repeat: “genocide must not be forgotten”. It seems that we have soon forgotten, as confirmed in the current (1990s) manipulations with monuments dedicated to ethnic cleansing whose destiny is shared by the works of Nandor Glid. 

Other exhibits: Dachau (1964), Phenix (1969), The Chariot of Death (1982), Menorah in Flames (1990), etc. also display that dynamic movement; every detail, every part, the composition, the whole, significantly and dramatically represent the last traces of life in rigor mortis of the epoch we (wrongly) thought was ancient past. In the spaces of Nandor Glid’s blazing arabesques that time seems to be returning. 

Jovan Despotović 

Gallery Zepter, Belgrade, 2000