Cady Noland expresses one of her primary themes in Untitled, a unique work on paper that serves as a powerful address to the sociopolitical issues at the dark heart of American culture. She captures a moment in the history of media that defines the horror of America's obsession with entertainment, morphing a young heiress-turned-villain into a media icon, regardless of its positive or negative connotations. The story of Patty Hearst allows Noland an opportunity to reprimand American society for its compulsion to transform even the most horrible, criminal acts into entertainment and to raise the most violent felons to a level of celebrity status. Like Patty Hearst's unprecedented case of Stockholm Syndrome, it is as thought the entire nation suffers from its own form of captivity at the hands of the media, learning to trust and even depend upon it.
The public story of Patty Hearst began on February 4, 1974, when the nineteen-year-old Berkeley student became a national sensation. Patricia Hearst, granddaughter of the powerful publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a left-wing terrorist group that began in 1973 in Berkeley. On April 3, 1974, Patty broadcast her newfound allegiance to the SLA with an audio recording, denouncing her family and taking the name "Tania" within her group. This event would spur a lengthy media debate over the abduction and eventual conversion of young Hearst.
The phenomenon of Patty Hearst became a key focus of Noland in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She was particularly fascinated by the irony of Hearst's appearance on the cover of Newsweek on April 29, 1974, gripping a rifle menacingly with an SLA banner in the background - the granddaughter of the inventor of the tabloid industry becoming the media's cover story nationwide as a criminal celebrity.
The artist's silkscreen process used in Untiled reflects the elements of mass production and consumption which generate the news, media, and entertainment over which the American public has grown so obsessed. The artist's frame furthers her message, arresting the viewer who is condemned by his own reflection. The puncture holes forced through the frame promote the violence suggested by the work as a whole, the violent act of stabbing and piercing adding to the criminality being objectified. Noland repeats such puncturing throughout a number of her works, perforating the American flag as an icon in Gibbet 1993-1994, as a means of bringing attention to the violent implications of a symbol so often viewed for its suggestions of freedom and pride. Noland, in this manner, reminds her audience of the violence and horror pervading society in its symbols and publicized news stories, proposing the notion of a failed American dream.
The ink markings are composed of segments of graphics and inverted text. By turning the words upside-down, Noland removes traditional narrative from her work - yet it is not purely collage. The viewer glimpses phrases and names, enough to reveal Patty Hearst and her SLA captors (and eventual friends) as well as Hearst's perverted celebrity status. The violence projecting from Noland's work, through the text and her artistic process, reflects the political discomfort and violent anxiety found in the textual landscapes created by Christopher Wool. RIOT 1990, in particular, conjures the true chaos of an uprising in the simple organized disorder of Wool's decided placement of letters.
In the present work Noland manipulates a news article in order to objectify the idea of the press and the media-created celebrity, in this case, Patty Hearst. Noland provides a necessary window into the cultural issues of the 1970s, using her post-modern language and motifs in order to take on a symbolic analysis of the sociopolitical conflict and disillusionment that persists into today's American society. Noland simultaneously creates and destroys American symbols and celebrities, signifying the combined success and failure of the American dream.