TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT January 2019

THE PICTURE OF LITTLE C.N. IN A PROSPECT OF HORRORS

THE MUSEUM FÜR MODERNE KUNST (MMK) in Frankfurt is presenting a comprehensive survey of the work of Cady Noland through March 31. Curated by Susanne Pfeffer, the exhibition takes stock of how Noland’s work grapples over and over again with the American pathologies of capitalism, consumption, celebrity, and violence. Here, Artforum contributing editor Bruce Hainley considers how Noland’s art is also somewhat of a family affair.

Cady Noland, Towne Square, 1993–94, silk screen on aluminum. Installation view, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 1994. Photo: Geoffrey Clements.

CADY NOLAND’S infamous solo show at New York’s Paula Cooper Gallery, March 26–April 23, 1994. American AF I am thinking. Closed not much more than seven weeks before O. J. Simpson rode the white Bronco into our current consciousness. 24/7 entertainment news. Celebrity media glare. Kommencement of Kardashianness. Bros before hos. Domestic violence the star-spangled ethos I am thinking. She found forms for that frenetic consciousness. C.N. saying, “I make an issue of the way things are connected.” When she makes an issue (not long before the show opened) of the way things are connected, I am thinking she wasn’t only pointing to the way piping connects to couplings, various T’s, Y’s, or elbows, fastens into flanges, to the way flags are fisted into gaping holes, metal sheets leaned against walls, chain-link fencing on the floor, but sizing up, within a current context that makes the context of no context almost quaint, what connection means at all. For “connected” read also “controlled” and/or “contained.” Holding pens. Households. Carceral archipelago. Negative liberty I am thinking. Old Glory. There’s an OxyContin in the color of every color of the flag. Corporate America First. A gun in my lap I am thinking. New kind of lap dance. Freedom G-string thong another way around. Not how shall I use the gun but flags at half-mast from sea to shining sea.

This is not how to begin writing about C.N. I am thinking.

View of “Cady Noland,” 1994, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Geoffrey Clements.

“Is it hard-core? Is it politically correct?” These are the first questions Paul H-O asks no one in particular as he kicks off a segment of Gallery Beat dedicated to Cady Noland’s infamous 1994 solo show at Paula Cooper with his gonzo crew. “They’re silk screens from newspapers,” artist Walter Robinson replies. “Old, I think, from the ’60s . . . or ’70s, don’t you?” The camcorder (operated by Robinson) veers across the gallery, apprehending, hit-or-miss, Noland’s premeditated heavy-metal shambles. He prods a rascal who looks like he skated to the shoot at 155 Wooster from a casting call for Kids: “What do the captions say, Matthew?” No answer forthcoming, Robinson sighs: “Something about the Mansons.” Remember the start of political correctness I am thinking.

Cady Noland, Trashing Folgers, 1993–94, silk screen  on aluminum plate. Installation view, Paula Cooper Gallery,  New York, 1994. Photo:  Geoffrey Clements.

The Beatsters (I am looking at the Gallery Beat episode right now) attempt to come to terms with three Noland works ditched to the left of the entrance area, all but the last propped against a wall. The Poster People, 1993–94, a blown-up AP wire photo silk-screened in black-and-white ink on aluminum plate, in which two women, giddy on a settee, flank a little girl who covers her mouth with both hands in glee. A caption for it, screened separately on a vertical plate, words running up and down, straps the picture to a narrative: “Dec. 11—MARCH OF DIMES POSTER CHILD—Mrs. Betty Ford enjoys a laugh with Jamie Gay, the 1975 March of Dimes Poster Child, during a visit at the White House Wednesday. Jamie, 9, of Spokane, Wash., was born without eyes. (AP Wirephoto) (dl4l646hb).” Joan, Is There One Law, 1994, another enlarged press photo silk-screened in black ink on a steel sheet, in which a puffy, Nordic-looking blowhard carries a protest placard that declares, in multicolored all-caps: JOAN, / YOU HAVE OUR / $2.5M 13,000 SQ. FT. / HOME / WHICH WE BOUGHT / FOR CASH DURING / OUR MARRIAGE, / I AM NOW / HOMELESS / HELP! Finally, the Gallery Beat camera haphazardly hovers over, but never really focuses on, the third largish, dully silver aluminum plate (supported or braced, unlike the others, by its own stand, with the result that the entire thing resembles a kind of barrier or barricade), on which a newspaper caption, its block of text in black ink, takes up more than two-thirds of the left-hand side, relaying something about the entrance to Barker Ranch in Death Valley, California, where, in late October 1969, Charles Manson and some of his followers were arrested. To the right of the caption, a vertical cat’s-eye-shaped oval has been cut out of the metal. On the flip side of this “painthing,”* Trashing Folgers, 1993–94, a picture of the bleak backyard of Barker Ranch glowers: untended trees, dirt and ash, stone wall, dark house, tire swing, and a ditched Folgers can—a topography as much of class as of mayhem’s neighborhood. The cutout oval gives the tire’s center an actual hole, something to see through, filled with nothing. Nearby, the backs of two stockades, each with their little silvery benches: Gibbet, 1993–94, aluminum over wood, an American flag draped across the device but incised, like a wound to be drained, allowing all the shame holes—hands, head, feet—to remain available for use; and then, parallel to it, similarly dated, made of the same materials but scrapping Old Glory, Your Fucking Face.

Cady Noland, Manson Girls ‘Sit-In’ Cut-Out, 1993–94, silk screen on aluminum plate. Installation view, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. 1994. Photo: Geoffrey Clements.

This is not how to begin writing about C.N. I am thinking.

Can’t do this I am thinking. The descriptions, the explanation. Not sure the exegetical enterprise matters anymore I am thinking. Can’t stand rerunning that Gallery Beat clip to point out how Robinson’s question—“Old, I think”—is crucial (crucial to whom?), or to ask why C.N. has these pictures—from the early 1970s, mid-’80s, and late ’60s, respectively—returning, haunting, or harrowing the now she corralled them into. I look at my notes: Start with mothers and daughter(s) in politicized space. Relate that feminist space to the form of her painthing, how the metal follows the outlines of the heads of the women rather than the newspaper’s gridded photo. OK. Here goes. Little ginger Jamie Weaver. Age nine, the 1975 March of Dimes Poster Child, born without eyes (congenital anophthalmos), wore artificial ones. Holding a Raggedy Ann doll in her lap, she sits between her mother, Mrs. Brenda Weaver, and Mrs. Ford in the Map Room of the White House two weeks before Christmas; tells jokes. (“What happens when Santa Claus gets stuck in the chimney Christmas Eve?” she quizzed the First Lady. “Why, they work him loose with ‘Santi-Flush!’” Everyone roars.) There was coffee and tea—Coca-Cola for Jamie—and cake. There were reporters, photographers, and TV crews. There was Mom and there was Betty Ford, “a product and a symbol of the cultural and political times,” as the New York Times summed her up. “Doing the Bump along the corridors of the White House, donning a mood ring, chatting on her CB radio with the handle First Mama—a housewife who argued passionately for equal rights for women, a mother of four who mused about drugs, abortion and premarital sex aloud and without regret,” unapologetically pro-choice, forthright about her own battles with breast cancer, drinking, and opioid addiction. C.N. chooses this picture of these women, instead of others (cf. shutterbug Karl Schumacher’s formulated, saccharine “understanding,” instead of the puissance of a laugh riot), and blows it up. In more ways than one I am thinking. Severing the direct relation of photo and caption, turning the text on its side, the thing’s transformed into an emblem of lessons in womanhood, hospitality, and comedy; perseverance and resilience; blindness and insight.

Cady Noland, Pipes in a Basket, 1989, metal basket, American flag, cartridge belt, handcuffs, metal tubes, 6 5/8 x 22 7/8 x 22 7/8 ". Photo: Axel Schneider.

More notes: Nordic blowhard complaining about all he doesn’t have or didn’t receive from his famous, successful wife, Joan Collins. “It must seem pretty pathetic that a successful woman, more or less in the prime of her life, should allow herself to be mentally abused and pushed around by a bullying Jekyll and Hyde ex-rocker who’d become a petty tyrant,” the actress confesses in her third memoir, Second Act (1996). The petty tyrant, briefly her fourth husband, was Peter Holm, Swedish playboy-chanteur, who bored his way into the position of her financial manager and coproducer before she booted him. Didn’t go quietly. Boycotted the divorce and his eviction, barricaded himself on their premises, staging protests in the front yard, chaining himself to the property, alerting the press. In another Holm work by C.N., he gripes, via placard: IS THERE ONE LAW / FOR A / SOAPOPERA / ACTRESS / AND ANOTHER / FOR THE HOMELESS? / BE FAIR / PETER HELPED / YOU GET RICH. / GIVE HOLM / DECENT HOME. C.N. often positions her newspaper and tabloid works so that either the picture, the accompanying caption, or both are upside down or sideways, sometimes “back” facing “front”—discombobulations she repeats throughout her career. This is how to construe (inverted, perverted) Holm’s dramatics within the context of the actual history of protests against injustice. Collins’s absence from the scene: a woman dynastically calling the shots, wielding her power by not being seen, by not having to be seen.

Cady Noland, The Poster People, 1993–94, silk screen  on aluminum plate. Installation view, Museum für Moderne  Kunst, Frankfurt, 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.

The head of the caption from Trashing Folgers reads: RAMAINS [sic] OF MANSON ‘HOME.’ (The Mansons violate even rules of spelling.) C.N. barely props up what it means to live in the land of the free, “home” of the brave, to house whatever survives of the principles on which it stands, if it ever stood on them. The last word of the caption has also been put, like HOME, in scare quotes—“FAMILY.” As it almost always should be I am thinking

C.N. WAS (and still is) the daughter of a very famous artist (it must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel I am thinking), one instrumentalized for certain definitions of the Americanness of American painting, of artmaking, its abstractness, which makes it all sound more expansive than it was. Is. For the book published in 1996 by the Deste Foundation to accompany “Everything That’s Interesting Is New,” an exhibition of works from Dakis Joannou’s collection, C.N. provides two pictures of herself as a little girl in lieu of a headshot. In each picture, taken seconds apart, C.N., sporting a pinafore and straw hat, sucks on her right pointer finger; in the larger of the two reproductions she sucks on her right pointer as her left hand grasps chain-link fencing. She wasn’t born without eyes, but she’s years from seeing the concept of Manifest Destiny or construing the metalanguage of evil, the metalanguage of anything, the word metalanguage. Little C.N. hasn’t yet cracked open her first can of beer. As a little girl, she wouldn’t understand instrumentality or the exigencies, contingencies, of fame or of Americanness. She is not yet a woman thinking about aesthetics, culture, career trajectory: how Dad’s work would for many be deemed, by the time she was in her twenties, “pitiable” and “irredeemably outré”; how Mom, an artist too, would have a completely different take on the notion of career.

*Cady Noland, Untitled (Patty in Church), 1991, silk screen on paper, artist’s frame, 34 1⁄4 × 46 1⁄4". Photo: Axel Schneider.

Two months before the Paula Cooper show opens, the entire third page of “Metal is a major thing, and a major thing to waste,” her interview, with Mark Kremer and Camiel van Winkel published in the January 1994 issue of Archis, is taken up by a black-bordered candid shot of a little girl who sits, beaming, a large black cat with white marks draped over her lap. Its caption reads: “Cady Noland as seen by Cady Noland.”

“I came from Washington, DC, a city of façade.”

“I came from Washington, DC, a city of façade,” C.N. noted about her place of birth. “What’s behind it? We’re two-faced. I’m trying to break the facade—mix things up.” Named for (or after) her maternal grandmother, Lydia Cady, daughter of Josiah Cleaveland Cady, architect of the original Metropolitan Opera House, whose most familiar surviving building in Manhattan is the south range of the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. Lydia Cady, stalwart wife of Senator William “Wild Bill” Langer, the Dakota Maverick, who had previously served as governor of North Dakota. Even his sturdy biographer, Agnes Geelan, felt she had to raise a pointed rhetorical question about Wild Bill’s “unorthodox tactics”: Was he a “far-looking liberal, a humanitarian, a true man of the people,” or “a demagogue, a charlatan, a power-hungry politician . . . a crook ready to sacrifice any principle to achieve his personal and political ambitions?” Lydia was no wallflower: When her husband was convicted of financial conspiracy and solicitation in 1934, Lydia Cady Langer ran for election in his stead, and came close to winning.

Cady Noland, Joan, Is There One Law?, 1994, silk screen on steel sheet. Installation view, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Geoffrey Clements.

C.N.’s parents both spent time as artists at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the late ’40s and early ’50s; Kenneth Noland attended Black Mountain from 1946 to 1948. It was there, after returning to the college from Paris in 1950, that the painter came under the sway of Clement Greenberg and Greenberg’s then wife, Helen Frankenthaler. In 1954, Greenberg curated Noland into Noland’s first New York group show, “Emerging Talent,” at the Samuel Kootz Gallery, a show that also included, under her maiden name, the work of Cornelia Langer. Four years after his divorce from Langer in 1957, Kenneth Noland moved to New York, living at the Chelsea Hotel but eventually buying the Gully, in South Shaftsbury, Vermont, near Bennington College, a property formerly owned by Robert Frost. At the time, due to Greenberg’s sway at the institution, Bennington was known as “Clemsville.” C.N.’s mother, a student and ally of Morris Louis, operated, with Maria O’Leiry, a boutique antiques-jewelry-and-artifacts shop, Nuevo Mundo, in Alexandria, Virginia, for two decades. In 1985, she married Dr. Donald Jeffery Reis, the George C. Cotzias Distinguished Professor of Neurology and the director of the laboratory of neurobiology at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

View of “Cady Noland,” 1994, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. From left: Gibbet, 1993–94; Your Fucking Face, 1993–94. Photo: Geoffrey Clements.

In the same month of her solo show at Paula Cooper, C.N. recommended to the readers of Artforum, in addition to a nonfiction account of the exploits of the Hillside Stranglers (“I couldn’t get the book out of my mind. . . . They get very, very bored murdering people and have to kind of restimulate themselves with new tricks, like reviving the person for a moment or shooting Windex into their veins”), George Kubler’s The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (1962). “It describes patterns in the genesis and the dissemination of cultural objects,” she synopsized, “over vast expanses of space and time.” Kubler hesitated when it came to the relation of the “history of an artistic problem” to what he referred to as the “limitations of biography,” and yet his exposition of the “historical question in artists’ lives” shimmers in the light of C. N.’s making an “issue of the way things are connected,” the conceptual and material coupling embedded in that historical question, which is always, he insisted, “the question of their relation to what has preceded and to what will follow them.”

Cady Noland, Untitled (SLA), ca. 1989, silk screen on acetate, 78 1⁄8 × 71". Photo: Axel Schneider.

None of what C.N. staged, Pox Americana, was seen to have anything to do with her or her life at the time of her Paula Cooper show. It would be years before anyone attempted to read against and/or psychoanalyze the abreaction or mellower acting-out of her painthings. In 2001, four years before his death, artist Steven Parrino offered other ways of looking at his friend’s work:

Cady Noland’s subjects are not social anthropology, but clues to herself. She uses emotional triggers that represent weakness. Crashed Car (Cady was in a wreck at a young age), Plane Crash Photos (Cady is afraid to fly), The Family and the SLA that kidnapped Patty Hearst (Cady has a fear of cults). What I mean is, Noland is not making arbitrary choices as a pop artist would. To pop artists all images generated by society are equal and impersonal. Cady’s choices are highly personal; they are based on her fears, and how she chooses to deal with them. She aestheticizes her fears and tries to control them by pinning them up. 

Of course, fear and weakness might not be the only reasons for thinking through or acting out what to do with these highly personal choices.

Cady Noland, Tanya as Bandit, 1989, silk screen on aluminum plate, bandana cloth, metal stand. Installation view, Museum für Moderne  Kunst, Frankfurt, 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.

IN 1965, the year before C.N. turned ten, Michael Fried staked his all on the work of three American painters, one of whom was Kenneth Noland. “In a sense, modernist art in this century finished,” the art historian and critic claimed, “what society in the nineteenth began: the alienation of the artist from the general preoccupations of the culture in which he is embedded, and the prizing loose of art itself from the concerns, aims, and ideals of that culture.”† But embedded where and prized from what, and at the expense of the grace of whom? Jonathan Edwards could have high-fived the ideals put forth, or rushed its fraternity I am thinking.

Cady Noland, Publyck Sculpture, 1993–94, aluminum  on wood, steel plates, chain,  whitewall tires. Installation view, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 1994. Photo: Geoffrey Clements.

C.N.’s mother would put another spin on such alienation, who and what’s included or not in the regime change of an aesthetic nuevo mundo. “There was a great deal of talk about nerve and about breaking the barriers of art,” Cornelia Langer Noland Reis recalled for one of Clement Greenberg’s biographers. “It was a bit of a macho thing, Americans versus Europeans. Clem thought the Americans were risking, breaking barriers. That’s why he was so up on Pollock, what Pollock was doing was a whole new frontier. So they talked about breaking boundaries. That’s how they thought. . . . They all had very grandiose ideas. . . . It wasn’t just getting the next show or anything like that . . . it was idealistic. They talked in terms of the history of art much more than artists today do. Artists today worry about more mundane issues, like is my dealer screwing me. In my day, they were much more concerned about really doing something” Mom refrains from stating whether or not “really doing something” was what they really did, or whether it remained merely a concern.

Cady Noland, Shuttle, 1987, chromed wall bracket, metal trolley, car parts, rim, exhaust pipe, safety belt, buckle, plastic casing. Installation view, Museum für Moderne  Kunst, Frankfurt, 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.

C.N. would certainly have her own take on, if not indictment of, such cultural alienation and how to respond to it. Not exactly indirectly or obliquely, she has “chronicled again and again,” as Joan Didion wrote about Elizabeth Hardwick, “the undertow of family life, the awesome torment of being a daughter—an observer in the household, a constant reader of the domestic text—the anarchy of sex.” The last word of the Trashing Folgers caption is, as I mentioned, “FAMILY,” in scare quotes. As Didion and Hardwick understood, the family is a political battle zone. The first words of Fried’s essay on Dad et al. could have been part of the pitch notes for C.N.’s productions: “For twenty years or more almost all the best new painting and sculpture has been done in America.” A country her grandfather had helped govern.

“The beer cans, particularly Bud, serve as a kind of ‘flag manqué,’ being, as they are, red, white and blue,” C.N. observed around the same time she arranged 1,100 six-packs of Budweiser to create a holding pen, a kegger Walden, for This piece doesn’t have a title yet, 1989, at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh.

The cans represent the residue of deeply pathological thought on the part of their designers, and they are testimony to acute, economical use of suggestive strategy. They are tiny units of mastery. It is unnecessary to create anything through artistic reproduction, or even further thought, to represent units, reproduction, mass productions, serial repetition or pornographic status. The cans become an aimless accumulation that relates to the body’s digestive process, the beer having been “pissed away” in an anonymous anticlimactic process. . . .

Which is one way to deal with alienation: Drink it up, drink it in. The Stars and Stripes chugged forever I am thinking. Pledge allegiance. I like America and America likes me. By which I mean I am thinking I liked beer and I still like beer. As Parrino commented: “Things look better through beer goggles.”

C.N. was (and still is) the daughter of a very famous artist, one instrumentalized for certain definitions of the Americanness of American painting, of artmaking, its abstractness, which makes it all sound more expansive than it was.

A SNAPSHOT of Clement Greenberg and Kenneth Noland floating, happy, in Dad’s swimming pool at the Gully; Dad, claiming “Clem” is “my best friend”; pix of Dad and Anthony Caro stomping around the Gully while, in the surround, Dad’s weirdly overdetermined, Caro-esque sculptures hold forth: Loom, 1971–74; Shadow, 1974; Homage to David Smith; and Jenny, 1970, named for Greenberg’s then wife, Janice Van Horne. Such photographs provide no resolution, although neither does flipping through the family album. What does it mean to make an issue of connection—of what kind of connection, especially when the biographical, art-historical, and political are so knotted—a question of heredity? The family is as much an aesthetic form as a political one. Kubler’s “question of [an artist’s] relation to what has preceded [her] and to what will follow” twists in the air like a noose hanging from a gibbet. When seen in the light of candids of C.N. and her brother and sister and dad at the Gully, should Dad’s sculptures—say, Vermont, 1971–73, as it was photographed in his backyard, with its cheerless aspect of a gallows-y jungle gym—be taken as a metalanguage for many of the daughter’s painthings, say, her Publyck Sculpture, 1993–94, all brute geometry with three hanging tires (one for each sibling)? Should Dad’s circle paintings, Turnsole, 1961, or Winter Sun, 1962, be held in the mind when C.N. stacks tires on duct pipe or leaves them swinging from a beam? It’s not as if so much of everything emblematized by and yet “priz[ed] loose” from Dad’s “targets” or his chevrons—say, Blue Veil, 1963—doesn’t return, natural and/or unnatural history, with all its perverted and inverted due, no more in her AP bulletins than in her taciturn A-frame sawhorse barriers. From what side of the barrier should any thinking take flight?

Cady Noland, A Piece, 1998, plastic saw blocks, acrylic on wood. Installation view, The Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.

And let’s not be stuck in the mire of childhood I am thinking. C.N.’s solo debut at White Columns, New York, March 24–April 2, 1988, occurred during the same moment that the familial psychodrama of the Sullivan Institute for Research in Psychoanalysis went public. Although named after psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan and founded to resist the decadent conformity of American bourgeois life through “radical processes of regression, corrective experience and personality restructuring,” it quickly became a sort of Gold Base on the Upper West Side; eventually retrofitted, after various real estate grabs and tax schemes, as the Fourth Wall Repertory Company. “Most of the artists whom Greenberg had saluted and done much to beatify as the best in America and the bearers of its cultural future,” Robert Hughes crowed, “came within the rigid embraces of the Sullivanians/Newtonian cult, and this only served to increase their belief in Greenberg as a magus and prophet.” Hughes specifically names Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, and Kenneth Noland.

Cady Noland, Stand-in for a Stand-in, 1999, cardboard, wood, paint. Installation view, Matthew Marks, New York.

Two months after C.N.’s White Columns show closed, the New York Times published an account of the courtroom proceedings. “Custody Case Lifts Veil On a ‘Psychotherapy Cult,’” it was titled. “Ex-members say jobs, child-rearing and sex are dictated.” To the left of the article’s lede, a photo of three figures who looked ready for justice to be done was captioned: “Barbara Antmann, left, Cabot Paley, center, and Cornelia Reis, relatives of Sullivanian collective members. The Sullivanians are under fire in two child-custody suits filed by former members who want their children removed from the cult’s influence.”

What does it mean to make an issue of connection—of what kind of connection, especially when the biographical, art-historical, and political are so knotted—a question of heredity?

When C.N. decides to represent herself as an artist by providing family snapshots of herself as a child, the domestic text returns with all its contentious resonance and contingencies. Oh or alas or nevertheless: the recursive shape of time, how “things are connected”—kinship, inheritance, the horror genre known as heredity, the privilege, or lack thereof, that is already part of who you are before you are “you.” Parrino was holding back when he stated that his friend’s choices of subject weren’t “arbitrary” but “emotional.”

Cady Noland, Untitled, 1989, metal basket, spare car parts, beer cans, metal link chain, car polish, V-belt, 17 3⁄4 × 23 5⁄8 × 14 1⁄8". Photo: Axel Schneider.

MENTION THE HEYDAY of Focus on the Family I am thinking, everything accomplished under the guise of Family Values. Flag-burning amendments. The fact that the best essay on C.N.’s work is American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Remind anyone who’s forgotten I am thinking of Patrick Bateman’s fixation on Donald Trump. Toward a Metalanguage of Evil: The Art of the Deal (aka The Psychopathology of Entrepreneurial Whiteness). If Ellis’s western on Wall Street exemplifies the virulent ethos, C.N.’s undertaking, not unlike his, lays bare at its patriotic gore—I mean, core—the consequences of a regime of knowledge. “A good way to decipher my pieces is to look at how they ‘behave.’”

Cady Noland, Untitled (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), 1994, silk screen on aluminum plate. Installation view, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.

IN 1999, Robert Gober succeeded in persuading C.N. to produce a single work for a summer show he curated at Matthew Marks, New York. While much has been made of her reticence, relatively little has been conjectured about how deeply she understands that power is held by those who never have to appear. Stand-in for a Stand-in glimmers, a painthing but somehow depleted, some fogging up of a mirror’s reflective qualities and manipulations, in the center of the gallery, situated on top of a plain black rubber mat, an element that strangely but frequently falls off the list of materials, which it would be too convenient to call a symbol of the undercommons. “This show suggests to me a metaphorical family romance,” Peter Schjeldahl noted in the New Yorker, “in which [Robert] Beck’s tape evokes a traumatizing dad and [Anni] Albers’s textile an exacting mom. The other works at Marks complete the analogy: Cady Noland as a sister in misery; Joan Semmel as a raffishly louche aunt; and Nancy Shaver as an exemplary older cousin.” Curious that Noland is a sister but not a daughter—because, of course, she is both—and that she is “in misery.” (Pretty sure that isn’t the affective order but just its stand-in I am thinking.) Light pierces the five holes of the soft, shaming device, and when the sun hits the thing, the glare off it almost makes it disappear. It is a gravestone and the ghost of a gravestone, in the shape of a stockade. Parrino, again, engaged so many of the elusive qualities of Stand-in:

This work surprised me because it had a sensitivity that her work had not shown before. The piece was another “stockade” work, but this time made out of cardboard and wood, held together by tape. It was painted with a very obvious hand, in a lyrical manner, fading from silver and grey. Noland’s new “stockade” was also functionless (making it even more of a painting), in that you could not lock someone in it. . . . By making Stand-in for a Stand-in . . . Noland had made a “study after the fact” (her own words) of the stockade. However, this stockade is totally hand-made. . . . Her work was complex to produce even though it came from humble beginnings. The new piece seems like a step back, but also a way out.

Cady Noland, Untitled, 1999, paper on cardboard tube. Installation view, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.

“Old, I think.” “A step back.” C.N. had begun to negotiate that way out at least three years earlier with an edition she produced for Parkett, a stockade-ish template in cardboard called (Not Yet Titled), 1996, painted with lacquer-based sanding sealer and aluminum enamel spray paint so that “surface inflections differ[ed] from one piece to another.” She borrowed the form from a “work-in-progress” Parrino exhibited in 1988 at Metro Pictures Gallery, New York, that became Stockade: Existential Trap for Speed Freaks, 1988–91. (“Cady called me to ask if it was okay to make stockade pieces. I told her she didn’t need my permission.”) Underneath the five holes for the head and limbs are two pairs of not-fully-incised ones, on the left, on the right. Circles. It’s tempting to call them blind, since they can’t be seen through. The cardboard softness of both pieces qualifies the device and its template as, Parrino points out, “functionless . . . in that you could not lock someone in it.” All the sculptures in C.N.’s 1994 Paula Cooper show—the stockades, the various swings—were meant to be used, not merely looked at. There are even pictures of the artist and her friends putting them into action and not only for fun, or if it was only for fun, it was for a dark fun, like visiting a house of horrors standing in for the one called history or life. C.N.’s devices loop back to what American public sculpture would have been, a disciplinary device, around the time Jonathan Edwards preached that God was dangling our souls over the “pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire.” C.N.’s never stated if she hopes that bringing such a sculptural form to time’s returns—swerving to reckon not only with a history of carceral and disciplinary structures of entertainment (lynching, freak shows, public shaming) but also with Fried’s vexed anti-theatrical milestone—could train those born with or without eyes how to see, and yet so much of her enterprise demonstrates that art is more often than not a barrier to seeing, to insight; meanwhile, it devises counterfactual ways of seeing through art, over art, around art. Seeing through, both as something illusory, something to be seen through, as sham, and also as a focusing device, a sight one stares through to take aim.

Cady Noland, (Not Yet Titled), 1996, spray paint and lacquer on cardboard. Installation view, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.

While much has been made of her reticence, relatively little has been conjectured about how deeply she understands that power is held by those who never have to appear.

Stand-in for a Stand-in makes its action, its use, conceptual, while keeping the seeing-through always potential, possible, necessary. As in so much of her work after the Paula Cooper show, C.N. depends on the conceptual in more ways than one: The most recent work, almost all of it razed of images and text, remains freaked, as if hereditarily I am thinking, by her prior work’s intense, specific figures (Manson, Oswald, Jacqueline Onassis, or one of her understudies, Jaclyn Smith). The notorious characters emblazoning her painthings are only ever stand-ins for stand-ins. She makes an issue of how her forms and figures are connected to the culture around them, embedded in it, rather than prized loose from it. Patricia Hearst occupies the same familial position in relation to William Randolph Hearst as C.N. does relative to her own William “Wild Bill” Langer, granddaughter to grandfather. Her Rubberneck Communion, 1991, with “Patty” in the roles of high-school cheerleader and bridesmaid as well as revolutionary “Tanya,” machine gun ready, is a distorting mirror device. As all self-portraits are. At the time of her kidnapping, “Patty” Hearst was a student of art history at the University of California, Berkeley; C.N. graduated from her mother’s alma mater, Sarah Lawrence, but she had long been homeschooled in art and its histories, and she has continued to ask what any of it means to a person.

The question of their relation to what has preceded and to what will follow them I am thinking. The grim incorporated family affair of the politico-aesthetic Grand Guignol we are in. Now I am thinking those circles that appear at the top or on the side of your Instagram and Google and Twitter feeds, they are like the holes of a stockade into which everyone eagerly plugs their fucking face. As is so often the case with C.N.’s work, the only response I have to looking at it is to laugh, until I start to weep.

Bruce Hainley is a contributing editor of Artforum. He recently edited Gary Indiana’s Vile Days: The Village Voice Art Columns 1985–1988 (Semiotext[e], 2018).

NOTES

*The term is Richard Hawkins’s. When he let that portmanteau Wort, painthings, ferment in public, he wanted any theoretically complacent and/or ironically self-satisfied love of painting to fester, by making anyone talking about the medium lisp or slip on or bite her own tongue, and then some. I’m not sure C.N.’s stockades and swings are really sculptures, or her heavy metal plates paintings—are they sadistic rather than specific objects, or perhaps just sad?—but painthings definitely they remain, pain things, pained things, from the ubiquitous bleak everywhere-nowhere of America, a site of negativity. No land.

† Michael Fried, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella (Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, 1965), 217.