- Cady Noland
- Bloody Mess
carpet, rubber mats, wire basket, headlamp, shock absorber, handcuffs, beer cans, headlight bulbs, chains and police equipment
- dimensions variable
- Executed in 1988.
John Gibson Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
D'Amelio Terras, New York
Private Collection, France
Venice, Punta Della Dogana, Mapping The Studio: Artists from the François Pinault Collection, June 2009 - December 2010, pp. 342-343, illustrated
Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, "Kunst als Enzyklopädie, Geschichte als Vaudeville," Parkett, No. 46, 1996, p. 104, illustrated
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Cady Noland's carefully constructed Bloody Mess - from every flung beer can to each displaced headlight - is an astute embodiment of the ambiguity that has come to surround the meaning of "American." Entrenched in the history books, the American story is one of optimism, freedom, progress and equality; for Noland, however, these are precisely the idealistic foundations upon which unobtainable American myths were built. Her art therefore reflects the country's tangible undercurrents of violence, repression and excess consumerism. Poetically, though, it does so with subtlety and care. There is no violence, per se, recreated, only the powerful and haunting suggestion of an aftermath.
Noland once described America as a gestalt experience. She said, "If you drive down the highway you encounter things being built, or falling apart, cars in yards on cinderblocks, and piles of junk. At the same time, however, amidst this protracted confusion they always have American flags flying every so often, which is such a beautiful Gestalt. I try sometimes to create a mirror of that: weird stuff that doesn't fit together, floating in a sea of palliative Gestalt images." (Rhea Anastas and Michael Brenson eds., Witness to Her Art, New York, 2006, p. 158).
In the case of Bloody Mess, disparate objects, including Budweiser cans, car parts, police equipment, and rubber mats collectively comprise a quintessential American image. These cans of "The Great American Lager," for instance, are scattered to the outreaches of the piece, so as to provide a sort of abstract framework around the inner compilation of a paraphenalia law enforcement and an uncanny selection of automobile parts. Indeed, the predicament Noland puts forth is disconcerting not only as an implied scuffle with the law, but also as a result of the disorderly alcohol containers and metal objects. Nevertheless, the lack of a concrete scenario results in a surprisingly palatable rendering of America's dark side—the only blood here is in the title.
No doubt, the approachability of the piece is also a direct result of the artist's distinct method of appropriation art, through which original expression is arrived at via a process of selection and combination. Her philosophical underpinnings therefore emphasize re-contextualization of found objects in lieu of physical manipulation. Given this, the present work constitutes a striking example of abstraction created through displacement; the shock absorbers, for instance, almost evoke weapons when situated within the context of the policeman's belt, handcuffs and gloves, as are the disbanded headlights reminiscent of a destructive crash.
The piece thus pulsates with violence and disruption, but unlike some of Noland's other work, the violence implied in Bloody Mess is vague - there is no reference to specific historic moments, nor is an individual cited, as is the case, for example, with Lee Harvey Oswald in Oozewald and Patty Hearst in Tanya as Bandit. In effect, the feelings of violence, terror and injustice conjured by Bloody Mess might be more rightly compared to the agonizing but unpersonalized news imagery Andy Warhol appropriated in his Death and Disaster paintings.
In Warhol's 1963 painting Red Race Riot, most notably, an encounter between unnamed civil rights demonstrators and an aggressive police dog is repeatedly depicted against a blood red canvas, heightening the aggressiveness of the incident. Originally published in Life magazine following the Birmingham, Alabama confrontation in May 1963, the three photos Warhol employs show the sequence of devastating police brutality. It is, certainly, a moment of hostility that one might easily imagine as having resulted in the arrangement of objects comprising Bloody Mess. Noland's placement of the outlying beer cans and car mats, moreover, suggests a sense of succession and movement, not unlike the dramatic and dangerous action of Red Race Riot.
The heated social and political climates of the 1960s are hence particularly resonant themes throughout Noland's body of work, and Bloody Mess, though it was rendered some years later in 1988, quite clearly echoes the ghosts of that era's violent upheavals and radical undertakings which epitomize the America of Noland's adolescence. The present work consequently also reflects Noland's association of the period with blatant consumer excess and extreme acts of indiscriminate littering. She has remembered, "As a culture, we tend to prefer quantity over quality... In the early sixties the streets, the highways and the roads were swimming in trash... You'd see trash flying out of everybody's car windows all the time and tons of trash piled up alongside the road." (Ibid., p. 157). Given this, Noland's sensitivity to the violence of consumerism is fully evidenced via her sprawling and "trashed" composition.
While various campaigns have since worked to "beautify" the American landscape, Noland's artistic practice ultimately pinpoints the country's persistent and underlying, albeit abstract at times, malice and neglect. Bloody Mess, nonetheless, is not completely defeatist - if anything, Noland's line of reasoning in regard to violence is one that attempts honest acknowledgement and acceptance. It is an empowered, matter-of-fact stance, one on the verge of reclaiming violence as a human norm.