Explorations in abstraction |  Linda Johnson Dougherty

William Noland creates sculptures that are like abstract, architectural installations or three-dimensional drawings in space. He does not make discrete objects, but rather compositions of disparate forms and materials that take shape in very open, linear, schematic works. Noland plays off the industrial quality of rough wood as an art material and also incorporates found objects, such as metal rails, used two-by-fours and miscellaneous pieces of scavenged metal and wood. His installations juxtapose and reveal the different surfaces and qualities found in similar materials: rusted metal, shiny stainless steel, painted bronze. The surfaces of Noland’s sculptures are used and marked, in this case with nail holes, staples, gouges and pencil marks. Two of the works have large, rectangular plates of black Plexiglas placed on the floor, creating the illusion that one is looking into a bottomless hole or pool of black ink or water.

Noland stacks and layers linear forms into vertical and horizontal works that have strong architectural associations—installations that reveal the bones or underpinnings of a structure by removing its sheltering skin or façade. One tries to imagine the functions of these sculptures—machines, benches, shelters—but the forms have been abstracted, shifted and twisted away from what might have been their original purpose. The works all provide openings and vistas that transform both the space in which they’re installed and the works themselves as one walks around them. Although Noland has only four pieces installed in the gallery, dating from 1990 to 1995, they fill the space with great presence.

The show has a very Zen-like quality because of its spare, almost austere installation, which effectively enhances the explorations in abstraction. This is a thought-provoking and challenging exhibition that’s worth seeing more than once.

The Spectator, Raleigh, North Carolina
Linda Johnson Dougherty © 1995