Garry Noland: The Most Beautifulest Thing in the World
To say that Garry Noland’s work is fundamentally about the everyday would be one of those true
but suspicious statements too hackneyed to carry authentic weight. Eileen Myles begins her talk
“Everyday Barf ” by saying, "I don’t mind today, but the everyday makes me barf. There’s no
such thing.” When I imagine my equivalent of Myles’ lines, they'd go something like, “I don’t
mind art, but art writing makes me barf. There’s no worse thing.” While very little appears to
connect these two sentiments, I’d counter by pointing out that art, art writing and the everyday
are deeply enmeshed in the worlds of Noland, myself and — if I may — Myles. And that Myles’
ultimate point, as her talk unspools, is that the everyday is riotous, emotional, impossible to resist
and also endure — to the point of sick-making — and therefore full of a kind of rigor far too
great to be overlooked. The everyday is so great — as in momentous, profound, incomprehensible
— it makes you retch. Art, too, is all of that, and then, for me, there is the process of translating
it into words, which is nothing short of a puke-inducing rollercoaster ride, thrills and tears
included. Garry's sculptures, assembled from the toss-away detritus of quotidian tasks, venerate
the actions and objects we're most compelled to overlook, limning them into gem-like antimonuments
to close-looking and modest wonderment.
I first met Garry in the sweltering St. Louis heat of late August 2013, when he appeared at fort
gondo to view an exhibition by his friend Nicole Mauser and Kate Perryman. I was living at fort
gondo at the time, still married and directing the gallery, and I’d heard of Garry from other
colleagues in the Midwest region, all of whom had nothing but love and praise to relay. I
immediately liked him — his vintage horn-rimmed glasses and bowling shirt, quick wit and good
humor. The conversation quickly moved from the art on the wall to the art in his car — his art,
which he was hauling from Columbus, Ohio back to Kansas City, Missouri, his native city. Which
is to say that I had my first studio visit with Garry on Cherokee Street, both of us peering at the
piled Styrofoam, cardboard and patterned tape glittering inside his trunk.
I’m almost positive I agreed on the spot to exhibit him. Hot-gluing marbles to six feet of plastic
piping for no other purpose than an abstract sculpture is the brand commitment I most admire.
Dredging a lake for boulder-sized chunks of excess polystyrene and then gilding them with crosshatched,
one-inch pieces of gold tape is also the kind of visionary ambition rarely displayed
humbly, as Garry unfailingly is. When, a year later, Garry arrived again at fort gondo to assemble
his two-person show with his daughter Peggy, he came in an over-stuffed cargo truck, and my
impression was reaffirmed: this guy and his art are good.
Simon Rodia, the artist who built the Watts Towers, said “You have to be good good or bad bad
to be remembered.” This is not unlike the phrase "the beautifulest thing in the world,” which, in
its exaggerated lisping vernacular, sounds like a cross between Sylvester the cat and the "best
words" of Donald Trump. Garry’s work slips somewhere between folk art, modernist formalism
and nouveau-riche bling. There’s equal attention to the fine handicraft of a stitch, the balanced
sculptural integrity of minimalist contours, and the eye-widening spectacles of shimmer and
neon. At its heart, Garry’s work seems most akin to Catholic iconography — glorious objects
fastidiously made to transcend their ordinary materiality, "beautifulest" via worstness, sourced in
punch-clock labor and the ingenuity of thrift.
Fast forward several years: I am divorced and no longer directing fort gondo; Garry is now living
in LA. Before his departure from Kansas City, I was finally able to do a few visits to his proper
studio. There, I found an anchor-shaped piece of rebar lodged in a geometric piece of wood.
The rebar had been previously lodged in Garry's lawn for years, posing a continual threat to his
lawn-mower. I asked about his tape pieces, how he arrived at displaying their underside rather
than the reverse. It was all a mistake, he said — I peeled the tape off the floor and liked how the
underside looked better.
The gravity of the everyday is that it passes quickly, and we suffer its continual death necessarily without
too much inspection or grief. Pausing amidst that process risks one's utter unraveling in bewilderment, or,
better, finding crucial incremental joy in what's small and at hand. I’m not in the habit of looking at
the underside of tape, nor the wood grain-like inner patterning of peeled cardboard, but I think
that’s precisely what one needs to do when making something no one’s seen or read before. It’s
sort of like discovering the ecstatic nausea of the everyday, or the way that doing something
wrong — bad bad — is in fact doing it right.
— Jessica Baran, April 2017
Myles, Eileen. "Everyday Barf." In The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art. Boston: MIT