Michele Cone, "Cady Noland," Shift Magazine, #9, 1990, p. 32, illustrated (1990 Massimo de Carlo exhibition photograph) (edition unknown)
Exh. Cat., New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Whitney 1991 Biennial Exhibition, 1991, p. 200, illustrated (1990 Massimo de Carlo exhibition photograph) (edition unknown)
Tokyo, The Museum, Strange Abstraction: Robert Gober, Cady Noland, Philip Taaffe, Christopher Wool, 1991, fig. A, p. 33, illustrated in color (1990 Massimo de Carlo exhibition photograph) (edition unknown)
Exh. Cat., Paris, Palais de Tokyo, The Third Mind: Carte Blanche à Ugo Rondinone, 2007, n.p., illustrated (example from the collection of Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Antwerp)
Alison M. Gingeras & Jack Bankowsky eds., "Where Are we Going?" Selections from the François Pinault Collection, 2006, p. 231, illustrated in color (detail) (another example) and p. 233, illustrated (installation view, Art Cologne, 1991) (ed. no. unknown) and p. 233, illustrated in color (verso) (another example)
Exh. Cat., Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Contemporary Collection: The Donna and Howard Stone Collection, 2010, pp. 95 and 149, illustrated in color (another example)
* please note the source photograph used as a comparable image in the catalogue is by Bob Jackson
On November 24th, 1963, America watched Jack Ruby shoot the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald at point-blank range as the Dallas police prepared to transfer him by armored car from their headquarters to a nearby county jail. This was the beginning of a tumultuous decade whose commencement can be pinned to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy just two days earlier. Cady Noland's Oozewald is a seminal work from the oeuvre of an artist who is consumed with visually creating and referencing iconic moments that capture the anxiety and political unrest that inherently define her era. Noland's work becomes her own form of demonstration, bringing to the forefront the obsession with violence and the "town square" style of public killing that was pervasive in America in the 1960s. The media was essential in conveying the success and failure of the American dream – most particularly, the failure that turned to nightmares.
In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations released their final report of the killing of Oswald that stated it was not unlikely that Ruby was able to enter the basement of the building through unlocked staircases, possibly with the unwitting assistance of someone within the police headquarters unaware of his intent. This vigilante act was watched by millions just two days after the nation was rocked by the trauma of the assassination of the President. What was happening in America? Such uncertainty and such violence elicited tremendous fear of what would take place next. Conspiracy theories proliferated as the American Camelot fell and the American ideal came crashing down with it. Noland's silkscreened image of Oswald on a thick aluminum plate with 8 perforations symbolizing larger-than-life bullet holes is a harsh depiction of that day's violence and a greater symbol of the changes America would face during the coming decade. The bullet hole where one expects Oswald's mouth is stuffed with a balled-up American flag, a symbol of pride, patriotism and memorial callously gagging the already dying man. In Noland's conception, this is what America has been reduced to – a nation frenzied by intimidation and fear: here and in many of her works Noland conveys that the American dream does indeed have its limitations and shortcomings. This can be seen in sharp contrast to Robert Rauschenberg's silkscreen Retroactive I, from 1963 in which he chose a similar medium as Noland to comment on the state of the world at the time. In stark contrast to Noland, but more contemporaneous with the actual events, Rauschenberg chose to pay tribute to the charismatic President Kennedy who he regarded as a Renaissance man and masked the violence and chaos surrounding his death by a celebration of his achievements.
Metal is symbolic for Noland as it stands for permanence in society. Destruction of metal is transgression – a disobedience that is active, and the tearing and breaking of metal is synonymous with an active death. Noland opined, "about the metal: the use of it is sometimes hierarchical – to use chrome one place and galvanized aluminum in another is to describe relative relationships to it. The coolness might infer dissociation, but the mirror effect in some places is to draw you back in after the dissociation." (in an interview with Michèle Cone in Rhea Anastas and Michael Brenson, eds., Witness to Her Art, New York, 2006, p. 156). In the present work the angle of the gun, the choice to omit the perpetrator, and the foreshortening of perspective are as unsettling as the image itself – the viewer in some fashion, takes on the role of the killer and is immediately deposited into the psyche of the vigilante – illegally punishing the alleged criminal Oswald. Noland places us there in a deliberate attempt to force us to share in her fascination: she notes, "I became interested in psychopaths in particular, because they objectify people in order to manipulate them. By extension they represent the extreme embodiment of a culture's proclivities so psychopathic behavior provides useful highlighted models to use in search of cultural norms." (Ibid., p. 155).
Noland was by no means the first American artist known to broach such subjects of blatant violence. Andy Warhol's Death and Disaster series from the 1960s was also an exploration in the visualization of sadistic acts as broadcasted in the media throughout popular culture. This series may have at first appeared to be a startling choice of subject for the new star of Pop Art and the painter of mundane consumer products such as the Campbell's Soup Can. Yet, this body of work has been recognized as his most important and complex. Warhol had a striking fascination with death and, overtly or subtly, the theme is a vein that runs through a large portion of his overall output. The Deaths and Disasters were both self-inflicted, and socially determined. They do not appear at all sentimental; capturing the choreography of death rather than the emotional import. The raw humanism of the mass destruction of an atomic bomb, images of suicides, catastrophes, tragic car accidents and capital punishment is juxtaposed against Warhol's desire to be detached and machine-like, revealing the contradictory impulse that led him to produce such powerful and moving works of art. The media played an important role for Warhol's work. Through documentary images, death and disaster were brought to the mainstream of visual culture and to the consciousness of the American public. Warhol chose to cloak images from the Death and Disaster series in repeated patterns, taking his detached stance towards these images even further, just as Noland's images lack the same sympathy and humanism as the serial killers and psychopaths that beguile her.
Noland's work has often been inextricably tied to the perceived "Desperation" of the 1960s and 1970s: the tragedies of the Vietnam War, racial repression, as well as the assassination of President Kennedy have all contributed to her artistic development. All of the social, moral and historical associations of these incidents shattered the American dream across all realms. She states, "There is a method in my work which has taken a pathological trend. From the point at which I was making work out of objects." (Cornelia Butler and Alexandra Schwartz, eds., Modern Women: Artists at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010, p. 397).
Noland cuts through the present work, disrupting reality and making a violent act even more violent. Villains like Oswald, Ruby and Charles Manson achieved celebrity through the media coverage of their acts and the aftermath. Their crimes were fantastical and unfathomable and this made them enormously intriguing to the public. Noland's concern with the darker reaches of American society and the psychopath as protagonist is concisely and effectively depicted in the present work. Noland was included in the 1992 Documenta exhibition in Kassel, and in the catalogue it is explained, "the psychopath being the machine that it is, cannot imagine that it will cease to function, but in keeping with its obsession with control, it will short-circuit itself at the last moment if it is unquestionably about to be 'offed'. This machine itself does not consider this a matter of heroics - it is done as a last petty gesture." (Exh. Cat., Kassel, Documenta IX, vol. 3, 1992, p. 411).
Associations may be drawn between Noland's visual statements and the assaultive "violence" of the texts in Christopher Wool Word Paintings of the same period. In the late 1980s, with works like Apocalypse Now, 1988, Wool was giving a directive to the public of what to do in the wake of the global economic recession of the decade. The work reads: sell the house - sell the car - sell the kide, and with it Wool aptly displays the American angst and anger surrounding the time. Also in this series was Helter Helter a clear reference to the violence of the Charles Manson murders in the late 1960s and establishing a connection to the obsession with psychopathic behavior also shared by Cady Noland. The widespread preoccupation with violence in art in the late 1980s and early 1990s was not only on parade in America. In Britain, Damien Hirst was forging a similar path. Just two years after Noland's Oozewald, Hirst created the work titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a shark immersed in formaldehyde and floating in a massive vitrine. This installation has become the most iconic work by a British artist in the 1990s and an iconic symbol familiar throughout the world. The threat of the lethal teeth of the beast has been inverted and its gaping jaws, seemingly primed to claim a hapless victim, have become irrefutably defunct. The killing machine bred for taking life has itself had life taken from it. For this work Hirst famously "wanted something 'big enough to eat you' – something that, alive, would have been terrifying, and, even in death, is not comfortable company." (Lynn Barber, "Bleeding Art," The Observer, April 20, 2003). Cady Noland's silkscreened aluminum depiction of Lee Harvey Oswald at the time of his murder is of a similar effect. The violence of the tragic day in November of 1963 is only answered with more violence – hardly a settling thought or fair act of justice. In her commentary of man's ability to commit such blatant and vacuous acts of violence, she too objectifies the act with a disconcerting and thought provoking image for the viewer to comprehend.
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