New York

Cady Noland

Now that the uncanny, the abject, and the pathetic have been curated and written into submission, rummaging through the detritus of the American psyche has become something like business as usual, albeit in the inflated currency of the debased. Corralled within the critical rubric of antiform and establishment-baiting, the iconography of dysfunction and despair seems curiously disinherited from the social realities it purports to represent. It is as if malevolence and dis-ease have become the moral comforters of a generation uneasy with its own establishment status. In charting parallel territory, Cady Noland seems to be acutely aware of this muddled legacy. Her strategy and response has been to create an archaeology of the present pitched around had-faith interaction. And for the first time in many years, the chronicle of violence, false morality, collective amnesia, and death of affect, looks less like art-world Esperanto and more like a virulent semiotics of contagion.

For this most recent exhibition, Noland segmented the gallery space using partitions and freestanding work. The effect was that of an echo chamber in which the individual pieces pulsed between one another and between decades (the ’70s to the ’90s) in sprawling assemblages built of interconnectedness and organized disorganization. Leaning against the wall were honeycombed aluminum and steel panels with excerpts of image and text from the AP wire service silkscreened onto them. Here, Noland uses typeface in the same way that filmmaker Sam Peckinpah uses suits—as both mantle and agency of destruction in the disguise of benign authority.

Drawn largely from the Watergate era, the images and captions report the thwarted political ambitions of the likes of Wilbur Mills, whose Presidential aspirations were destroyed by a sex scandal, or Thomas Eagleton, unceremoniously dumped from the McGovern Presidential campaign of ’72 as a political liability because of his history of mental breakdown. Alongside these and other sacrificial victims of political “scandal” are references to the Manson clan, Martha Mitchell, Betty Ford, Peter Holm (the estranged husband of Joan Collins), the beleaguered Burt Reynolds (the top button of his jeans blown out, his gut slopping over the top), and Vincent Foster whose suicide note from February last year read simply: “I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport.”

Activating the space between these patriotic metal bodies are gallowslike structures, repeating with ominous and pristine newness the swinging tire motif of Man-son’s backyard, and a series of Puritan stocks, remade in the cool, formal language of post-Minimalism. Recurring in different guises, in ribbed and faux-woodgrain aluminum, in boardroom mahogany and draped with the American flag, the stocks shift Noland’s previous obsessions away from the metaphors of impaired mobility and restraint—the walking frames and handcuffs—toward the ceremonial rituals of public humiliation.

Shifting between the aftermath and the mechanisms of patriotic fallout, Noland has moved away from an object vocabulary of consumption and applied the same notions of honorific expenditure and sanctioned psychopathologies to the figures of American public life. A simmering violence and restrained formal elegance with the framing of the body in the stocks, Noland creates a disaster site governed by an entropic logic in which scandal and disabuse have become the Drano of choice for a society clogged by deranged manipulation and mental corruption. With no place to turn, Noland rips the present into tiny inarticulate pieces,which, like the pieces of Vincent Foster’s suicide note, speak not of dissent but of its failure—whether externalized as psychopathic behavior or internalized as scandal. As if to assert our position within this bleak ensemble, Noland has provided benches strategically positioned either side of the stocks.

Neville Wakefield