In the theater of American violence, Cady Noland is a cruel and cunning scenographer. His sculptures, often assembled from banal ready-made objects such as handcuffs, tires and metal railings, create an atmosphere of brutality. With “THE CLIP-ON METHOD” in the New York space of the Buchholz Gallery, she transformed the white cube into a kind of prison. Mesh fences along two walls block access to one of the gallery windows. Four groups of plastic barricades used by police for crowd control were arranged around the perimeter of the hall; some are truncated so that their crossbars protrude. (The two sets of works, dated 2021, echo pieces she made in the 1990s with the same materials.) Three untitled silkscreen prints on metal panels from 1991/92 are leaning against the walls: these enlarged and annotated pages of Police patrol: tactics and techniques (1971), a cop training manual, recommends dogs, horses and helicopters as a means of surveillance. The gray carpet gives the space a mundane corporate air. The aftermarket installation looks like a premonition of authoritarianism.
This exhibition was occasioned by the launch of a two-volume book of the same title that the artist edited and published with art historian Rhea Anastas. Its pages reproduce black and white images of Noland’s work from his nearly forty-year career; an index of the corresponding exhibitions appears on the back of the volumes. Several short Noland essays, most written in the late 1980s and 1990s, address some of America’s most paranoid obsessions, from serial killers to suicidal cults. Through these pages, bloodlust seems as American as apple pie. But the book contributes to an overall sense of Noland’s visual language rather than providing an index of its specific cultural referents. The artist has avoided a long press release or gallery didactics, so that the exhibition, not addressed in the book, is left to interpretation.
Buchholz’s fence is reminiscent of the walls Michael Asher removed from the Claire Copley Gallery in Los Angeles in 1974, stripping the space of its authority by exposing its inner workings. Noland reversed the gesture, reinforcing – rather than dismantling – the perimeter, perhaps pointing to a certain prison logic of the white cube, with its endless reproducibility and its dependence on the enclosure to produce meaning. Access to a gallery is implicitly limited and largely predetermined; Chain link barriers and Plasticade are designed to physically impede movement, and their presence in an Upper East Side gallery is reminiscent of the art world’s penchant for exclusivity. Yet Noland’s persistent refusal to explain herself also suggests a latent exclusivity aligned with the trends she seems to criticize. The calmer dimension of his conceptual gestures – apparently less addressed to the state than to the artistic institution – is only accessible to those who are already in the know.
More than a century after Marcel Duchamp declared a urinal a work of art, Noland’s sculptures lead us to wonder if the readymade can be successfully deployed for political ends. Without additional context, her cold artifacts always indicate their origins, making it difficult to analyze how she intends to change their meaning. This approach contrasts sharply with those of a young generation of artists, such as Park McArthur, Cameron Rowland or Constantina Zavitsanos, whose readymades are generally accompanied by long explanatory texts bringing them closer to contemporary issues. Does such didacticism make a work of art more accessible or simply overdetermined? How could this change the emotional power of art?
This balance between openness and fixity is not quite resolved here. Then again, balance may not be Noland’s goal. The book, available for sale directly from the artist, can also be read in the gallery, seated on a black leather sofa. Turn its colorless pages under burning fluorescents and the exhibition becomes an oppressive waiting room. Every road that Noland has left us open leads to a more anxious postponement, as if to say: the worst is yet to come.