By LIAM DOYLE October 26, 2023
On the outside window of a classic Upper East Side apartment building, the name CADY NOLAND is printed in a font that is now synonymous with the Gagosian name. At the gallery’s Park and 75th location (one of their more lowkey spaces, if such a description is even possible), a new body of work by Noland is on view. Instinct told me to quickly, and without thought, take a picture of everything. My first goal was to capture as many details and as much information as I could pack into a photograph. The reason being: I don’t know when I’ll have the opportunity to do this again. This mentality is perhaps part of a genius construct by Noland, whose work speaks to this same sentiment. The withholding of her work generates this kind of demand amongst a select group of die-hard fans. Having gotten the black Friday mentality out of my system, I took a closer look at what was on view. I noticed the absence of a printed press release or list of works. This information was only available using a QR code, which meant that for me (an avid collector of archival books and gallery material), this show was in fact fruitless for my own selfish interests. The only printed ephemera that I have been able to source was an ad that depicted one of the works on view and was distributed in Artforum (I happily sliced it out with a box cutter). What about this work (or artist) could have possibly roused such a greedy reaction out of me? It likely has to do with the famously elusive (famously elusive… an oxymoron, I know) artist’s history of withholding her work and participation in the art world. I enjoy imagining the conversations that came about to make this show happen. Who approached who with the idea for this exhibition? How long was this planned? These are the things that run through my head when I contemplate Noland’s work, especially this show.
In the gallery, the artist installed a labyrinth of sculptures that, at first, were not terribly unfamiliar. The sculptures on display, however, are not immediately recognizable as her run-of-the-mill works. In this exhibition, Noland teases and prods at us with a decidedly new visual language. Gone are the days of her free-standing newspaper pictures on metal, which, if made today, might verge on nostalgic. There’s a distinct generosity about Noland’s use of screen printing that I can’t help but miss in these new pieces. I am also contradicted in this feeling because my favorite Noland’s are arguably the assemblages, which mostly (like this show) bear little to no evidence of any painting, casting, chiseling, or what have you. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the show, because I did. However, I wonder if my enjoyment of the work had more to do with the rarity of a Cady Noland show than the work itself. I was made to feel like this was an exclusive event, advertised as minimally as possible. It was more of an “if you know, you know” kind of situation since there was no public opening and almost no press on behalf of the gallery.
On the floor, there are taped corners that carve out space for the red and black mats Noland has laid down. These delineate, (at least in my mind) a kind of pseudo-city planning that tells you exactly where you can and cannot walk. Rather than her well-loved fences and infrastructure, these pieces are subtle in the way that they corral you. Harking back to her 2021 exhibition at Galerie Buchholz, where the artist carpeted the entire floor, this new work feels much less like an intervention in space. The walls remain their classic white. The only truly unique aspect you see is the building’s original tin ceilings, although one does not get the sense that this was meant to be part of the show. Rather, the room contains Cady Noland’s instead of the room being a Noland itself. At Buchholz, the gallery felt entirely different from how it would appear for a more traditional show, with its chain-linked windows and gray carpeting. This in turn provided a much more sinister atmosphere in which the work became part of a larger concept. I’m all about cheap thrills, but this show initially left me feeling a little spent. There was so much to see in such a small room that the magic of Noland’s quiet persona felt a little lost. The hopeful feeling I had from the Buchholz show, which hinted at a newer and sleeker era, was somewhat erased by this show, which, in my mind, leaves much less to the imagination. This brought to mind an interesting question regarding the reception of new work by an artist who has historically remained quiet. Is it fair to use Noland’s selective participation as a detracting factor in an otherwise exciting new show? I think not.
When viewing this exhibition, one notices a level of transparency not yet seen before through her use of Lucite as a material. This same transparency becomes apparent in the exhibition of previously unseen archival polaroids, offering us a window into an otherwise unknown group of works. Whether it be furniture turned plinth or encasements for not-so-ancient relics, this development crystalizes a newfound clarity for this famously fenced-up artist. A couple of these works feature drawers, the kind you might find in a cubicle somewhere. However, these drawers still have the keys dangling from the locks. Does this indicate that these drawers were used by someone? Or were they instead sold with the keys right in the locks, indicating their brand newness?
This work seems to rely heavily on the relationship between sculpture and stand. The surfaces on which some of the objects rest become more integral to the work than ever. This idea of objects resting on a plinth is a distinctly classical reference point, as Noland is so famous for showing work directly on the floor. On top of one table rest bullets encased in transparent resin, as if midflight. A split-second moment of violence frozen in time. All the plinths and bases are ready-made tables. It wouldn’t surprise me if the artist made a few stops at the container store. Where some of her shows feel like western stage sets or government facilities, this show feels much more quotidian. The horror of the American workplace is something for us to see and perhaps recognize in our own lives.
Perhaps my favorite piece shows a wire basket where the artist placed a perfectly fitting white cornice on top, creating a sort of zombie hybrid plinth atop which rest the most usual of objects: coffee and oil. Despite these objects being so commonplace, they are particularly sinister among the rubble of American waste. In another work, Noland nods to Brancusi by placing unused metal trash bins in a stack, mirroring the now iconic work Infinite Column; however, this time it’s not so infinite.
Upon further reflection and with a few days’ time under my belt, I believe the show was far more compelling than I had initially thought, and (despite the work's references and familiar imagery) the work feels incredibly new. Noland eloquently places these new pieces amongst her well-known oeuvre and begins a new era. The polaroids of older and no longer extant works act as a kind of graveyard for shows and exhibitions of the past. This show at Gagosian hopefully marks the beginning of what could be a very exciting era for this important artist. WM
Liam Doyle is a writer, critic, and artist based in New York City. He is a graduate of Parsons School of Design and in his free time he enjoys collecting modern and contemporary art and design.view all articles from this author