Inevitably, I was feeling deeply weary and sceptical as I crossed the threshold of the White Cube on a rainy afternoon, the obscene City pullulating at my back. I hoped for little more than the smile of some attractive docent to brighten my day. The new “Nadler Exhibition” consists of one picture: The Black Square Painted From Memory, Gouache,15x15 cm. The gallery is empty of all but this, a typical and haughty post-modern conceit, I thought.
Nadler. Other critics have questioned his purpose and impugned his sincerity. The tabloids follow his feckless personal life with an odd kind of deference towards The Artist. Our first reaction tends to be: Nadler the joker, the trickster, whose raison d’etre seems to be to reach the last agonical scream of laughter. We know him too well. We are used to his visual acrobatics. And yet, and yet…
When I stood before this painting, alone on that Thursday afternoon something happened. His parodic signature is there, of course. He contains his ur-Malevich in a white cubed frame within an empty White Cube Gallery. You have to admire the theatrical flourish. Slowly, unaccountably, I felt drawn towards that strange surface. What is he up to? “Why do anything?” is, perhaps, the question that has always haunted him. There is no gainsaying it: I felt the hairs prickling on the back of my neck. What a three-dimensional, four-dimensional inner space he has created! The craquelure gives us access to the Old Gods: Rembrandt, Bacon and the irredeemable Rochester. It has a crapulous aspect, an impatience with the predictable, the paraphernalia of Art History. It faces the black within the black that Malevich was unable to express. And yet he has approached Malevich with great tenderness. He has crawled across London on bleeding hands and knees to the great icon of our modern sensibility. Gently he has wept before it, his tears soaking and drying into the paint. Shyly he has masturbated on its ancient surface. He shows us Becoming that we might Become. We cannot avoid the end of history, but we have to face our own recrudescence. As Eliot predicted, lilacs will breed from the dead land.
You may think this is hyperbole, the Critic self-deluded, and yet…I ask you to consider how the whole of Nadler’s oeuvre has reached this apotheosis. He has gradually eschewed wit for darker purposes; he is conscious of ageing, he is engaged with political meltdown, he feels the need to transcend limitation. I have to record here, even if I must hand in my art-critic license tomorrow, that I began to weep before this sublime work. It is the work of an Old Master, it washes us clean at last in its dark water. As I walked out unsteadily into Bermondsey Street I was still 59 years old, lumpen, sweaty and mortal, but thanks to Ellis Nadler I felt reborn. Long may he party, long may he paint, but if there is no more, then thank him for this.
Steve Bucknell.06.09.2014.— From a review of my "Black Square Painted from Memory"