Cady Noland at Gagosian

Cady Noland, Untitled, 2023 (detail), wood table, metal baskets, beer cans, coffee can, oil can, miscellaneous objects, and black vinyl, 91.5 x 162.5 x 199.5 cm. All images: © Cady Noland. Courtesy: Gagosian. Photo: Kris Graves

Turning a corporate New York office into a crime scene, new sculptures and Polaroid throwbacks zero in Noland’s inquest into star-spangled paranoia.

At a Gagosian uptown, we find ourselves in what feels like a storage closet for corporate America. A steel-wire basket holding tangled cords and discarded landline telephones is angled near the entrance; further inside, more wire baskets hold indistinguishable metal parts while pipes are strewn in a cluster across the gray concrete floor. Lucite coffee tables and consoles have been stacked up or pushed against the walls, their slick vacuousness evoking the depersonalized liminality of office lobbies and waiting rooms.

Across the past four decades, Cady Noland (*1956) has constructed a practice around the study of US-American paranoia and a crypticism reinforced by her own proclivity for secrecy. Because of the lack of publicly available information about the artist herself, most of her work has been interpreted through the lens of her incisive 1987 essay “Towards A Metalanguage of Evil,” in which she breaks down the state of existence in the United States into a “meta-game” among a population divisible into two groups, “X” and “Y.” She explains that the difference between the two is an awareness on one side and an ignorance on the other of their participation in the game: X plays the field, manipulating the rules to their advantage, while Y, “unabused by an awareness of back door maneuvering,” is still “in the dark” and “ripe for exploitation.” Her modus operandi for X draws from the patterns of real-life criminals and psychopaths, as well as tropes established within film noir, to populate a greater unifying theory around America’s culture of exploitation.

View of Cady Noland, Gagosian, New York, 2023

View of Cady Noland, Gagosian, New York, 2023. Photo: Adam Reich

Noland has developed her own distinctive visual lexicon, illustrated here through a series of Polaroid photos of her older works. Arranged like rows of playing cards, the images tour some of Noland’s greatest hits, featuring impressive assemblages of Budweiser beer cans, scaffolding, handcuffs, and rubber tires. Most capture productions from the 80s and 90s, before Noland’s notorious two-decade retreat from the art world and her hiatus on exhibiting any (new) work.

At Gagosian, Noland revisits that signature lexicon in a new series of untitled sculptures. Crushed Budweiser cans, sheriffs’ badges, and bullets are suspended in cast acrylic, crystallizing these objects as paperweights. In one piece, a grenade and a crumpled Coca- Cola can are placed on top of a white filing cabinet, its key sitting invitingly in the lock, while a wire bin containing aluminum trash-can lids is positioned nearby.

Cady Noland, Untitled, 2023

Cady Noland, Untitled, 2023, metal filing cabinet with key, Coca-Cola can and hand grenade in cast acrylic, metal basket, aluminum trash can lids, and tape, 85 x 77 x 47 cm. Photo: Owen Conway

Throughout her career, Noland has built a reputation for staging large-scale investigations into architectures of violence, and specifically the question of how they are wielded by institutions. Her executions often alienate the mundane, utilizing chain-link fences and scaffolding poles to draw attention to how everyday pathologies of power are spatially enforced on the unassuming masses. The corporate nature of the scene at Gagosian marks a turn toward the interior, one that mirrors how the American psyche has evolved during the artist’s “absence.” While the scaled-down transition from infrastructure to paperweights might defang the artist’s study of violence, it is perhaps more accurate to say that Noland is adjusting, attuning herself to a cultural landscape in which social fracturing is taken for granted and paranoia can be spun into a profession.

Perhaps most striking are the installation tactics used to frame her works – the viewer almost feels like Noland has dropped into a crime scene. The edges of various works are demarcated across the gallery floor or the surfaces they sit on by red, black, and white tape. Elsewhere, various objects – a small silver figurine, a plastic security tray holding silver car dealership nameplates – are presented like evidence in plexiglass cases. Here, the viewer is left looking for clues, encouraged to find their own connections and patterns: a conspiracy theorist’s delight.

Cady Noland, Untitled, 1986

Cady Noland, Untitled, 1986, metal walker, metal police badge, leather gloves and case, denim strap, leather strap with metal clip, and nylon strap with metal clip, 81.5 x 76 x 61 cm. Photo: Owen Conway.

Writings on Noland have praised her work for its apparent prediction of the United States’ descent into paranoia, which gains in prescience with every passing year. However, with this new show, Noland’s works must grapple with a changing context in which paranoia has become normalized, if not rewarded outright. What does conspiracy even mean in a society where, for some generations, the hyper-memeified term “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” holds the same cultural cachet as “always remember?” Returning to the premises of “Towards A Metalanguage of Evil,” what happens when your Y becomes wise to the game and is used to being – or even expects to be – played by X?

In one part of the exhibition, a silver horse-hitching post, reminiscent of a chess-piece knight, lies on its side in a rectangle of red floor matting. It was only at second glance that I realized that other parts of the gallery floor had likewise been delineated into rectangles with black matting and tape – a reminder that I was in a game of Noland’s own making.

View of Cady Noland, Gagosian, New York, 2023

View of Cady Noland, Gagosian, New York, 2023. Photo: Adam Reich


Cady Noland
Gagosian Park & 75, New York
12 Sep – 21 Oct 2023