Double Vision |  Kate Dobbs Ariail

Not many artists produce truly first-class work in one medium. William Noland does it in two. Triangle gallery-goers currently have the rare opportunity to see both Noland’s sculptural work and his photography—at City Gallery of Contemporary Art and at Duke’s Center For Documentary Studies, respectively. The exhibitions illuminate each other in surprising ways.

Noland’s abstract sculpture is rigorous, to say the least, even daunting in its exquisite formalism. Working with the materials of architecture, he devises arrangements that—like buildings—demand to be looked at from numerous vantage points. Yet at the same time, they deal with the formal concerns of abstract painting and representational photography. Abstract and cerebral though they are, Noland’s sculptures reveal a passionate devotion to the mysteries of relationships: up to down, back to forward, textured to smooth, rhythm to stillness, mark to absence of mark.

Noland’s passion is conveyed through the concentrated attention required to place his materials in precise alignments that maximize their expressivity. It’s an aesthetic passion, one that values purity and refinement over quick expression or emotional release. Noland draws our attention away from himself and his artistic process, keeping us focused on the work itself in a way that’s not particularly fashionable.

The paradox is that, for all his reticence, Noland is more truly revealing than the self-centered “tell-all” artists who have no topic but themselves. Take Southern States. Five years in the making, this is clearly the product of an artist who’s willing to work and rework to find the most harmonious interplay between his elements. Noland abstracts from architecture in order to deal with ideas about home, about self-image, about one’s place in the world.

The photographs in William Noland’s Gambling contain the same carefully calculated geometries as his sculpture, but in them the human presence is made explicit. They are powerful as photographs in terms of light, tones and textures, but they are also astonishing in their intimacy. Noland looks at people gambling in different ways—at hipodromos in Madrid and Montevideo, at the New York Stock Exchange, at the Belmont racetrack, at hunt races in Virginia horse country—and by his acute observation of their concentrated attention, he renders images of basic human truth.

In these pictures there is the calculating, the daring, the waiting, the defeat, and most of all, the recurrent hope and exhilaration that accompany every act of gambling. Each gambler is alone in the crowd, pitting his or her individual action against all the forces of chance. The gamblers are completely committed to their bets, just as the artist must be completely committed to each move he makes with his artwork.

While they reflect something about all of us, each of Noland’s photographs is, in a way, a self-portrait of the artist, for whom risk-taking is the great necessity.

The Independent Weekly, Durham, North Carolina
Kate Dobbs Ariail © 1995