Noland takes as a starting point the idea that the United States has historically embraced violence. “Violence used to be a part of life in America and had a positive reputation. . . . There was a kind of righteousness about violence—the break with England, fighting for our rights, the Boston Tea Party,” she has said. Through her sculptures, the artist asserts that this national connection to violence is by no means strictly in the past.
THE AMERICAN TRIP is an assemblage of objects that subtly allude to the relationship between statehood and violence. From a metal bar supported by three irregularly spaced stanchions hang chrome cuffs, leather straps once attached to police batons, and a wire hunting trap. Noland has paired the American Stars and Stripes with the Jolly Roger skull-and-crossbones flag that is traditionally associated with pirates. A white cane, which rests at an angle as if to take up more space, might be read as a symbol of the moral blindness of US policies. Made in the late 1980s, THE AMERICAN TRIP presents an art-historical reference to the industrial materials of 1960s Minimalist sculpture, but it departs from its abstract predecessors through its explicitly political commentary and potent psychological charge.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
“Violence used to be a part of life in America,” Noland has said. “There was a kind of righteousness about violence—the break with England, fighting for our rights, the Boston Tea Party. Now, in our culture as it is . . . acts of violence, expressions of dissatisfaction are framed . . . as being ‘abnormal.’” In this work, the artist has assembled objects that point to the ways violence, far from an abnormality, continues to order life in the United States. Leather straps from police batons dangle from a galvanized steel pipe; a wire hunting trap is positioned beside a pirate flag and the American flag, its bottommost corner skimming the ground; and a cane for the blind hangs diagonally, perhaps symbolizing the moral blindness of US policies.
Gallery label from 2020