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b. 1956, Washington, D.C.
Cady Noland was born in 1956 in Washington, D.C., the daughter of painter Kenneth Noland. After earning a BA from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, she settled in Manhattan. She began to create artworks with found objects in 1983 and had her first solo exhibition five years later at White Columns in New York. Her collages, sculptures, and mixed-media installations examine the underbelly of the American psyche, specifically our fascination with celebrities, violence, and psychopathological behavior. Her aesthetic vocabulary integrates strategies historically associated with Pop art, Minimalism, and Post-Minimalism, with its specific antecedents in the anti-form and scatter sculpture of the late 1960s.
Noland’s early work incorporates press photographs, newspaper copy, and advertisements. Guns (1986–87) is a black-and-white photocopied image of a pistol leaning against a can of Diet Pepsi riddled with bullet holes. A collage of images along the right edge offers instructions on how to reload the weapon. Firearms also figure in Noland’s series of cowboy sculptures. Cowboy Blank With Showboat Costume (1990) presents the silhouetted aluminum cutout of a cowboy punctured by four holes. He crouches and discharges his weapon toward the viewer, while sporting a delicate bow tie around his hat as well as an ostrich plume and bandanna in his belt. Injured and feminized, disabled by gunfire, Noland’s cowboys are impotent. The artist addressed the same theme in Saw Action/Duty (1986), an orthopedic walker draped with police equipment.
In the late 1980s Noland began a series of sculptures and installations examining the masculine underpinnings of the American dream, embodied in men’s beer consumption. Crate of Beer (1989) is a wire-mesh basket full of empty Budweiser cans. In her 1989 untitled installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Noland stacked six-packs of Budweiser atop one another. Metal scaffolding transformed these mountains of alcohol into a construction site. For the artist, Bud cans are as potent an American symbol as Old Glory, both being red, white, and blue. Flags, too, populate Noland’s work. In The American Trip (1988), Cheap and Fast (1989), and related works, the flag is draped or hung, limp or pierced, like Noland’s cowboys.
Also in the late 1980s, Noland delved deeper into the disturbed American psyche and focused on the public’s prurient interest in violence, a phenomenon exemplified in the media’s transformation of criminals into celebrities. For Noland, such a perverted process is symptomatic of the compulsion in American culture to objectify individuals for purposes of entertainment. Tanya as a Bandit (1989) and Untitled Patty Hearst (1989) address this phenomenon. Both consist of cutout press photos of Patty Hearst, enlarged and silkscreened onto sheets of aluminum. In the former, the publishing heiress-turned-terrorist brandishes a machine gun, having joined the cause of her kidnappers. The latter documents her conversion, showing images of Hearst as communicant, cheerleader, revolutionary, and bourgeois housewife along with a photo of her grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, the inventor of yellow journalism.
Noland believes the male psychopath is the ultimate example of Americans’ tendency to manipulate and objectify one another. She explored this notion in a series of sculptures devoted to Charles Manson. In Mr. SIR (1993), silkscreen on aluminum, the man who sanctioned the murder of actress Sharon Tate cuts an enigmatic figure. Not Yet Titled (Bald Manson Girls Sit-In Demonstration) (1993–94) represents female members of Manson’s “family” seated in the street in protest during his trial. Noland incorporated the wire copy that accompanied the original press photograph into the work.
In recent years, Noland has forsaken mass-media imagery in favor of a more sculptural vocabulary. Beltway Terror (1993–94) is a square of wood covered in smooth aluminum with five neat holes, resembling a pillory. Untitled (1999) consists of a piece of plywood supported by a set of white plastic barricades as used by police. While both works echo Minimalist geometric formalism, they also continue Noland’s exploration of the dysfunction of American culture in their allusion to torture, public humiliation, and physical confinement.
Solo exhibitions of Noland’s work have been organized by the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York (1994), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (1995), and Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut (1996). Her work has also appeared in Strange Abstraction: Robert Gober, Cady Noland, Philip Taaffe, Christopher Wool at the Touko Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (1991), Documenta 9 (1992), and MONO: Olivier Mosset, Cady Noland at Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich (1999). Noland lives and works in New York.