Let’s first stipulate that even if you don’t know his name, you’re familiar with Nagel’s work.
You know it from his neo-art-deco Playboy illustrations of strategically covered (and uncovered) vixens. From Duran Duran’s Rio album cover. From chrome-framed posters of Flashdance-y women hanging in cocktail lounges that haven’t had a makeover since the mid ’80s. Yes, those are all Nagel’s work.
Basically, he was to the art world what Don Johnson’s pushed-up white blazer sleeves were to fashion. In 1985, his sleek images of women—so geometric, so angular—were everywhere. By 1995, however, “the Nagel woman” was largely relegated to the province of freshman dorm rooms and apartments of uncles who stayed single a bit too long. (Hang it up, player.)
Now the pendulum swings back. This fall, I noticed signs of Nagel resurgence. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing: TBD. But consider the trajectory.
First, it began, as resurgences often do, with an ironic appraisal of his work. It took the form of Moonbeam City, Comedy Central’s animated send-up of Miami Vice. Naturally, its Nagel-inspired animation style is clearly perfect for the era: it’s overtly sexy, its figures are conspicuously lean, and everything is awfully pastel-colored.
Second comes the not-entirely-ironic. Skate/streetwear brand HUF just released a line of T-shirts, sateen jackets, skateboard decks and other miscellany featuring licensed reproductions of Nagel’s work. Of course, HUF was founded by Keith Hufnagel, so I have a strong suspicion the whole HUF x Nagel collab name was just too irresistible. Still, there is some serious work going on in the field of faux fur throws.
But, as any serious journalist knows, it takes three to make a trend. Will it happen? Will Playboy’s new full-frontal-less-ness be the perfect excuse to bring Nagel back to the fore? Will MoMA do a retrospective? Will Duran Duran release their lost basement tapes and need the perfect cover for the vinyl release?
The world must know.
Don’t keep a Nagel woman waiting.