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Noland’s early art work incorporates press photographs, newspaper copy, and advertisements. Her work Guns (1986–87) is a black-and-white photocopied image of a pistol leaning against a can of Diet Pepsi riddled with bullet holes. A collage of images along the right edge offers instructions on how to reload the weapon.
Firearms also figure in Noland’s series of cowboy sculptures. Cowboy Blank With Showboat Costume (1990) presents the silhouetted aluminum cutout of a cowboy punctured by four holes. He crouches and discharges his weapon toward the viewer, while sporting a delicate bow tie around his hat as well as an ostrich plume and bandanna in his belt. Injured and feminized, disabled by gunfire, Noland’s cowboys are impotent. The artist addressed the same theme in Saw Action/Duty (1986), an orthopedic walker draped with police equipment.
In the late 1980s Noland began a series of sculptures and installations examining the masculine underpinnings of the American dream, embodied in men’s beer consumption. Her Crate of Beer (1989) is a wire-mesh basket full of empty Budweiser cans. In her 1989 untitled installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Noland stacked six-packs of Budweiser atop one another. Metal scaffolding transformed these mountains of alcohol into a construction site. For the artist, Bud cans are as potent an American symbol as Old Glory, both being red, white, and blue. Flags, too, populate Noland’s work. In The American Trip (1988), Cheap and Fast (1989), and related works, the flag is draped or hung, limp or pierced.
Noland holds the record for the highest price ever paid for an artwork by a living woman ($6.6m), for her 1989 work Oozewald sold at Sothebys. In the fall of 2012 the same auction house, Sothebys removed her piece "Cowboys Milking"(1990) from a contemporary sale after the artist "disavowed" the work. Both Noland the auction house were later sued by the piece's owner, gallerist Marc Jancou for twenty six million dollars (with twenty million having been sought from Noland and six from Sotheby's). In November 2012 a judge dismissed Jancou's lawsuit.