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Friedrich Nagler: Wunderkammer

[ Exhibition )

Three stylised heads carved from black resin plastic

Friedrich Nagler, Three heads made from plastic, © Pallant House Gallery

An exhibition celebrating the extraordinary work of self-taught Jewish artist Friedrich Nagler who fled Nazi-occupied Austria in 1939.

Consumed by a passion for making art, Nagler was an obsessive maker who created thousands of works, some of which are likely to have been inspired by his flight from Nazi-occupied Austria to England in 1939. The exhibition supported the Gallery’s commitment to engage visitors with Outsider Art and elevate the profile of self-taught artists.

The exhibition focused on a series of small scale sculptural heads which were carved, cast and assembled throughout Nagler’s working life using a variety of materials including bone, metal, ivory, plastic and even non-traditional materials such as bread.

The heads have a strong Jewish influence and an Austrian folk art sensibility. The multi-faceted sculptures of bearded men are particularly haunting; with their beards, bearskin hats and profiles, they appear to refer to Hassidic Jews. Considering Nagler’s own experiences fleeing the rise of anti-Semitism in 1930’s Vienna and the loss of many of his loved ones in concentration camps, the works evoke the horrors of the Holocaust, and possibly serve as an act of remembrance on Nagler’s part. The intentional arrangement of so many of these works in one room created the impression of a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ (or Wunderkammer in German).

Nagler refused to sell his work or have it exhibited during his lifetime. Since his death in 2009 there have been a small number of exhibitions including at England & Co in 2014 and the Paul Smith Space Gallery, Tokyo in 2015 but there is still an extensive body of work that has never gone on public display.

What the press said

This is an exhibition not to be missed.

Monica Bohm-Duchen, Jewish Renaissance

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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