View of “Cady Noland,” 2018–19. Foreground: Cady Noland, Dead Space, 1989. Background, from left: Kenneth C. Noland, Touch, 1963; Steven Parrino, Bent Painting, 1991. Photo: Axel Schneider.

View of “Cady Noland,” 2018–19. Foreground: Cady Noland, Dead Space, 1989. Background, from left: Kenneth C. Noland, Touch, 1963; Steven Parrino, Bent Painting, 1991. Photo: Axel Schneider.

Cady Noland

View of “Cady Noland,” 2018–19. Foreground: Cady Noland, Dead Space, 1989. Background, from left: Kenneth C. Noland, Touch, 1963; Steven Parrino, Bent Painting, 1991. Photo: Axel Schneider.


ON SECOND THOUGHT: What was she thinking?

What was she thinking about Lee Harvey Oswald or Charles Manson, Betty Ford or Jackie O.?

What was she thinking about the old red, white, and blue? About violence? About American history?

What was triggered in her thinking when it occurred to her (if it did) that Clement Greenberg curated both her mother and her father in their first big New York group show, “Emerging Talent,” in 1954, also the year Patricia Campbell Hearst was born—“Patty,” who emerges in the Museum für Moderne Kunst’s astounding survey “Cady Noland,” curated by Susanne Pfeffer in collaboration with the artist, as a soft young girl in a chapel and truncated cheerleader in Untitled (Patty in Church), 1991, and as “Tanya,” a gun-toting, Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive and FBI suspect, propped up like a Cineplex standee in Tanya as a Bandit, 1989 (cf. Nate Rodgers’s 1976 sex romp, Tanya, about a kidnapped heiress who becomes the “ultimate Revolutionary Nymphomaniac,” a “four star general in the war for carnal knowledge”).

The artist was born two years later, in 1956.

If not working through some personal shit and/or allegorical family drama, then was she thinking of a genealogy . . . of morality?

“I shot a Kennedy. What did you do?”*

She’d witnessed a mourning in America.

John Warnock Hinckley Jr., to impress Jodie Foster, decided against aircraft hijacking, or committing suicide in front of her, opted instead to assassinate the president, failed.

What was she thinking about the old red, white, and blue? About violence? About American history?

Was she thinking about the celebrification of politics? Of course she was, from her pointedly dialectical glances backward to Lincoln’s theatrical assassination in Booth—The Big Plunge, 1989, to her use of Patty’s grandfather’s campaign ad for Congress, Untitled (William Randolph Hearst), 1990, to her Betty Ford works, particularly Walk and Stalk, 1993/1994, the off-kilter newspaper caption of which says the First Lady “has a smile and a wave for the corwd [sic] of newsmen and tourists as she leaves sports shop in Vail”; the accompanying picture shows her not waving, her smile more a rictus of perseverance. For her most Nietzschean hot take on the fourth estate’s complicity in it all (cf. infotainment), there’s her scotch-taped photocopy collage Untitled (Manson/Rivera), 1993/1994, in which Uncle Charlie sucks the Ich, ick, und id from the back of Geraldo’s head, his eyes, mouth, and ears already evacuated black holes, his nose bandaged, broken by a skinhead who whaled on him during a taping of his talk show. (Perhaps there were very fine people on both sides.) 

All of which is to say: If something stuck in her mind about America, which America? The one for the rich and famous or the one for everybody else? Was she thinking of the wretched refuse of its teeming shore, the homeless, tempest-tost? Vets home from war, metal plates in their heads, missing limbs?

Or was she always thinking more about the American dream—the one, as George Carlin put it, you have to be asleep to believe in? In other words, Spiritual America.

“If you drive down the highway you encounter things being built, or falling apart, cars in yards on cinderblocks, and piles of junk,” she told Archis in 1994.“At the same time, however, amidst this protracted confusion they always have American flags flying every so often, which is such a beautiful Gestalt. I try sometimes to construct a mirror of that. . . . During the ‘hostage crisis’ in Iran or during the Gulf War, I forget which, a yellow ribbon (sometimes accompanied by an American flag) became the sign of solidarity in the States. There were little yellow ribbons everywhere—on pencils, on car aerials, on T-shirts, on trees, in store windows etc. It obviously made people feel less confused.”

So: not some strange abstraction, she was making things inspired by true events and mirroring protracted confusion. Is that the same as history? Is that realism? Is realism abstract?

View of “Cady Noland,” 2018–19. Foreground: Institutional Field, 1991. Background, from left: Industrial Park, 1991; Joan, Is There One Law?, 1994. Photo: Axel Schneider.


THE CHAIN LINK FENCE Manufacturers Institute “was started in 1960 by a group of small manufacturing firms who wanted to be able to compete effectively with the larger, integrated steel companies which dominated the market after World War II.” Their homepage announces that “chain link has become the go-to solution” for these six “high security settings”: “correctional, utility and energy assets, petrochemical, airports, highways/infrastructure, commercial.” High security to preserve property values.

For Cady Noland’s Industrial Park, 1991, chain-link fences jut from a wall into the gallery emptiness. Institutional Field, 1991, lies flat on the floor, an exit to nowhere, gridded out by three similar fences on poles. Are such barrier works representations of a contextually traumatized world, or appropriations (or readymades) ripped from it as brutal demonstrations of the ruthlessness behind the rhetoric of “safety” and/or “security”? I am neither sure that these oppositions make any sense, nor can I gauge, for myself, and certainly not for the artist, the emotional resonance (ominous? Panic-assuaging? Hardcore punk?) of this ubiquitous material, this offensive.

Cady Noland, Celebrity Trash Spill, 1989, newspapers, magazines, three cameras, lenses, camera tripods, microphone, shirt, five pairs of sunglasses, doormat, rubber mats, pack of cigarettes. Installation view, 2019. Photo: Fabian Frinzel.


RUMORS OF LONG-TERM JOCKEYING for a Cady Noland retrospective by curators at various fancy institutions have been rampant for decades. That Pfeffer pulled off this survey is nothing less than a coup de foudre, especially since she did so with the notoriously “elusive” artist’s collaborative brainstorming on every decision (scare quotes for CN’s cultivation of an air of refusal, despite her seeming to track, often litigiously, her work’s every move). 

What resulted was a Cady Noland commune or collective, joined by Michael Asher, Joseph Beuys, Bill Bollinger, Kenneth Noland, Claes Oldenburg, Charlotte Posenenske, Sturtevant, Andy Warhol, and a minisurvey of paintings by Steven Parrino.

Not sure how to take the arrangement of Dad’s traffic-cone-orange and municipal-green chevron, Touch, 1963, acrylic on ungrounded canvas, and her close friend Parrino’s Bent Painting, 1991, its lacquered honeycomb aluminum almost an identical shade of orange, especially in light of CN’s looming, prison-bar-ish scaffolding-pipe Dead Space, 1989. Or to notice that Dad’s painting–cum–zoning ordinance was made the same year as Warhol’s White Disaster II (White Burning Car II), 1963, its joyride-gone-wrong mayhem—body hanging from a telephone pole, car aflame—its blank (dead?) white space, its image grid breaking down or off. How to reckon with “white disaster” adjacent to 12'6" Chainlink Fence, 1992, extending into the same gallery, cordoning off nothing from nothing; Celebrity Trash Spill, 1989, scattering the aftermath of a paparazzi assault; and Untitled, 1999, a large cardboard tube covered with industrially printed black-and-white paper, repeating the corporate labeling QUICK STIK® and REMOVE PAPER TO EXPOSE ADHESIVE. Is the silvery-white juxtaposition about death’s infrastructural, 24-7 incessancy, its gruesomeness and its mediatized glamour? What meanings adhere, and why do some take precedence over others, if meaning still adheres at all beyond a quick fix? What was she thinking?

Cady Noland, Untitled, 1999, paper on cardboard tube. Installation view, 2018. Photo: Axel Schneider.


BY STRIKING FROM HER SURVEY the mind-bending kegger fort of This Piece Has No Title Yet, 1989, or the excruciating compacted wreckage of Misc. Spill, 1990, with its awning frames, trash, shopping cart, cinder blocks, car bumper, concrete, dust, and forlorn Old Glory, all strewn between a galvanized metal security shutter and a chain-link fence, Pfeffer and Noland presented—rather than allover “installations” of works by the “just pathetic” or “scatter” artist she was frequently mistaken for—the labor of an unusually consistent maker of discrete objects, however often assembled in a syntax of one thing after another, or leaning or resting on top of one another, industrialized “metal” combines, exported from a Guantánamo of the mind. This exhibition did not re-create the same circumstances or vibe as when much of the work first appeared, cf. Saloon Stairs, Blank with Extra Wood, 1990, her Wild Western set. When the work was first shown at Luhring Augustine Hetzler in Santa Monica, California, in 1990, the gallery staff dressed as cowboys, Hollywooding it, posing on the stairs for PR, the artist location—scouting the “institutional field” for a three-act showdown with expansionist history. (CN: “New West versus Old West . . . oil versus cattle . . . ranch house versus the ranch.”) At MMK, Saloon Stairs—cornered yet glowering, almost by itself at the back of a large gallery—seemed primed for a bleak Claire Denis remake of Johnny Guitar.

Cady Noland, Saloon Stairs, Blank with Extra Wood, 1990, wood. Installation view, 2019. Photo: Fabian Frinzel.


TOO OFTEN used as a rhetorical walker/wheelchair/crutch for handicapping her objects, Towards a Metalanguage of Evil—a manifesto written in 1987 by CN for a conference on evil—is as much about “exploitation” and “stalking,” etc., as it is a Rosetta stone for (so-called) appropriation, the Pictures generation and its psychopathological techniques (aka “mirror devices”), or, as Parrino declared, “black ops.” It was published in Spanish and English two years after it was “presented with images” in Atlanta, then in German and English in 1992 as part of Documenta 9, where Noland turned “that essay into a three-dimensional form”; it was illustrated, when it first appeared in Balcon in 1989, by similar-size press photos of “action deaths” (an airline disaster, a hotel fire, police and automobile accidents), as well as by works by Barbara Kruger, Peter Nagy, Parrino, Wallace & Donohue, and Sherrie Levine, one of whose lead checker-board paintings waves down a Sipa photo of a sleek black Formula One race car, serving as a finish flag for CN’s deliberation. Towards a Metalanguage of Evil is a study of relations with others, one that “black ops” complicate at every move. Sure, je est un autre, but does that make me the same as or different from everyone else?


THE ARTIST DIDN’T EXPLAIN Spiritual America by geist but via the “meta-game for use in the United States” (cf. the Game of LIFE®, also known simply as Life) that “depends on investing in things which accrue in value, or in wasting things in an obvious way (but not at your own expense, only to exhibit a genuine surplus).” The rules of the game weren’t hidden to her, which would suggest, wouldn’t it, that when wrangling thinking to her “photo-objects” and painthings and sculptortures, it is good to recall how she delineated deep social space in America, public life as it began to be privatized, in terms of both class specificity and consciousness.

Even if there is one set of goals within a society deemed desirable to obtain—there is certain to be differentiated access to it for different groups within that society; and where one group may be positively directed with institutionally and constitutionally easy access to those goals, another group may have to try to attain those goals through other channels, in ways which are actually “against the law.” To dream up a society in which all things have been emptied of meaning is to aver in the end that there exist no class distinctions in that class—an irresponsible representation.

The responsible representation of the class valence of chain-link fencing, whitewall tires, scaffolding poles, handcuffs, and walkers? Let’s put it this way: There are almost unbreachable differences among the sponsor, the pit crew, and the driver. Between the one inside the holding pen and the one with the key. Between the dude on a forced perp walk and the one eagerly obliging BDSM. Among the jock with a sprained ankle, the geriatric Floridian, and the friendly-fire amputee.

View of “Cady Noland,” 2018–19. Foreground: Cady Noland, Bloody Mess, 1988. Background, from left: Cady Noland, Not Yet Titled, 1994; Charlotte Posenenske, Vierkantrohre, Serie D (Square Tubes, Series D), 1967. Photo: Fabian Frinzel.


WRONG TO PLAY DOWN the critique of institutions—legal, carceral, disciplinary, capitalist, if those aren’t sides of the same . . . coin—or to ignore the gallows humor when encountering the three whitewall-tire swings of her Publyck Sculpture, 1994, communing with part of Michael Asher’s Rénovation = Expulsion, 1991, an intervention he executed with Le Nouveau Musée in Lyon, for which its obsolete cast-iron boiler was smelted into paperweights. Artist Michael Baers acutely noted that impressed on one side of the paperweights is “contact information for two local housing rights associations” and other details of their material provenance, as well as their availability for free distribution “to people of low income who have housing problems.” Baers nods to Allan Sekula:

[The] preoccupation with the flows of waste, with plumbing and heating—with what, in American parlance, are termed “utilities”—is central to Michael Asher’s work. The realm of culture is always shadowed by the realm of utility, in an often very funny enactment of the old—fashioned Marxist hierarchy of base and superstruc-ture, grafted onto an appreciation of the specific Duchampian origins of the readymade.

He emphasizes that, for Asher, “the artist did not abide on some mythic plane of unalienated expression. S/he was constituted, through intellectual or physical work, as one category of alienated laborer,” but, of course, one who controlled the means of production. Arbeit macht frei.

Similar aesthetic flows, sociopolitical and class-specific engagements, return when CN’s Not Yet Titled, 1994, a massive, tilted, chain-link “wall,” and Bloody Mess, 1988, a basket-case miscarriage of Budweiser, police force, and kustom kar kommando kulturs, are shadowed by Charlotte Posenenske’s dual, doppelgänger air-conditioning shafts, Vierkantrohre Serie D (Square Tubes, Series D), 1967. Recall that Posenenske repudiated the commercial art market; sold, when sold, at their material cost, her objects, she stated, “are not intended to represent anything other than what they are.”

For her own set of paperweights, Untitled, 1986/2018, CN suspended bullets, a hand grenade, crushed Coca-Cola and Bud cans, and a metal-link chain, as well as security police and sheriff’s badges, inside Spencer Gifts–ish Plexiglas cubes. [Insert something here about workers “going postal” vs. civil disobedience vs. stand-your-ground law.]

Cady Noland, Untitled, 1986–2018, bullets, hand grenade, Coca-Cola can, beer can, sheriff badge, Plexiglas, overall 11 × 11 3⁄8 × 9 3⁄4".


RETURN TO TANYA. With the cropped caption that makes up the base of this sculptorture, Noland clarifies that, as much as on any historical concern, she has her sights on the media and the traffic of pictures: “This photo is a copy of one received in April in San Francisco by / io [sic] station ksan and purports to show Miss Hearst in front of a Sym- / nese [sic] Liberation Army insignia.” Too quickly the gaps are filled out, or in, the bullet holes of aporia closed. Is this history? Is this fake news? What does the Associated Press purport to show by publishing the picture? What does Noland purport to show by blowing the photo-object up, silk-screening it onto aluminum plate, and pitching it into art’s handsome spaces? In documents disclosed during her trial, Hearst alleged: “What some people refer to as a sudden conversion was actually a process of development, much the same as a photograph is developed.”


CHARLIE FOX SENT ME a still from a movie that would have been hugely popular in CN’s early heyday: It shows a large cage, raised up on a low, lazy Susan–ish platform surrounded by a surplus of A-frame barricades (perhaps, as some of CN’s are, more than a few branded TS [for Tough Shit?]), all of it stranded in a prison-y gymnasium decorated with patriotic bunting. “Has anybody pointed out the similarity between Cady’s sculptures and the cage tableau from The Silence of the Lambs?” Mr. Fox asked. It’s a typically Foxy question, unexpected and keenly observed, so it took me a while to figure out why I kept thinking no, in more ways than one: No, no one had pointed it out, but also, no, something about the comparison is off. I kept thinking of CN's mute, gunmetal “skull” standee, Cowboy Bullethead Moviestar, 1990. Her undertaking's gestalt isn’t strictly psycho horror-thriller, but rather deadpan, even stoic. Not the dandyism of criminality, but the point-blank banality of evil, broadcast around the clock. A mass shooting for every school district. Military-industrial complex as it is normalized by the local hardware store. 

Bruce Hainley is a contributing editor of Artforum.


*“I shot a Kennedy. What did you do?” a 1987 Raymond Pettibon drawing challenges, above a pen-and-ink portrait of Oswald. “No, I can’t top that,” a voice responds. Pettibon’s history lesson makes up the cover of the catalogue for “Dirty Data,” a 1992 exhibition of the Sammlung Schürmann at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen, Germany, which included works by Cady Noland.