David C. Nolan & Marilyn Monroe -and- Arline Conradt & the Cat Scrapbook
David C. Nolan and Arline Conradt’s collections embody masculine and feminine desires through memorabilia long before the digital age. They were interested in culture via celebrity and advertising yet they were also repressed. A Tale of Two Obsessions explores my interest in one man and one woman’s fascination with the found image, their methods of archiving and organization, and the perversity of their actions.
Until recently, Nolan’s photographs of Marilyn Monroe were stored in a safety deposit box, acquired for $5 at an antique store in the 1980s. For several years, members of my family believed that Nolan was the photographer, but the true creators are Earl Theisen, Bert Riesfeld, and countless others who photographed films like The Seven Year Itch for publicity. After the completion of these images, I posted them online and have since learned that Nolan owned roughly 300,000 photographs of women in various states of undress. He retreated to his basement where he labeled his collection, wrote captions on each photograph, and stored them in thousands of cardboard boxes. After his death, his wife, horrified at this trove, gave them away to the first person that would remove them from the house. They gradually circulated along the West Coast and 29 ended up in my family’s hands in Boise, Idaho.
Conradt’s cat scrapbook containing 3,770 reproductions of cats from the 1940s – 1950s was a gift from my father. It was purchased in Milwaukie, Oregon in the late 1990s. Evidence inside this hefty book indicates that Conradt was from Western Oregon and she had a daughter named Paula but there is no reference ever made to a significant other in her life. Her mother is a prominent feature as is her sister Pauline who sent her the majority of the cards and drew cats in the style of Fernand Leger. The scrapbook contains notes and full paged letters addressed to Conradt’s cats: Smoky, Teat and Goldie. There is even a cat birth announcement. The most perverse objects in the book, however, are 70 year old cat claws taped to the inside of cards “signed” by Smoky.
I digitally combined the front and back of Nolan’s photographs and enlarged them two and half times the original size. Marilyn Monroe remains ghostly while the rigid text, spelling errors, and (DEAD) written years later in an unsteady hand dominate. All 310 pages of Conradt’s scrapbook are printed as wallpaper with three objects displayed on pedestals in the foreground: reproductions of the 1940s cat claw greeting cards, my contemporary version of the scrapbook with the identical number of felines, and a greeting card dedicated to Arline with claws from 38 cats.
I was raised in a family of collectors and variations of this theme routinely appear in my art. For the first time, this series features little alteration or fabrication on my part, allowing real people’s private desires to become public.