J.W. Mahoney |  New Art Examiner

Sculptural traditions last longer and change more slowly than those in painting, and their longer life seems, happily, to promote a more discursive, less frantically intuitive rationale from which to work. As Karen Wilkin points out in her excellent essay for this exhibition, one of modern sculpture’s most vital traditions was found-object construction, “material with a vernacular, non-art history…transubstantiated by the artist, both physically, by being manipulated and altered, and metaphorically, by being made part of a new, independent object.” William Noland, a Washington-born sculptor living in New York, is a talented and unusually innovative bearer of that tradition.

Noland works in wood, using off-the-rack lumber, wooden casting molds, furniture parts, doors, boxes (of unknown commercial or utilitarian purpose), and cast-off pieces of wood. They share only their anonymity and their unlikely grace and each humbly reflects its handling by carpenters, manufacturers, printers, lumbermen, et al. Noland reorders these fragments into abstract constructions that signal formal and contextual improbabilities. The radical extent of these improbabilities, combined with Noland’s superior carpentry, give his pieces their unique power.

The pieces lean against the wall or are splayed along the floor, in unerringly precise and difficult patterns: for example, a round casting-mold, propped on the wall by a series of interconnected two-by-fours, is anchored thereby to an overturned wood milk bottle box on the floor, in a dizzyingly simple, aesthetically proper fusion.

However, since the best of Noland’s work is based on risk, the challenges to his aesthetic are fairly implacable: he must either take more risks and perhaps not succeed, or relax into craftsmanship, which, as is amply demonstrated, he has already mastered.

New Art Examiner, 1987
(Review of Fall 1986 exhibition in Washington, D.C.)