Nick Cave at Jack Shainman Gallery & Mary Boone

When it comes to looking at things that are highly subjective such as fashion and art, it can be difficult sometimes to separate the intellectual from the emotional.  Yet, there are artists and designers that I love for their ideas and cultural contributions, but not necessarily for the formal properties of their work.  There are also those that I simply can’t help adoring–despite their popularity or commercial appeal–I am instinctively drawn to them.  And then there are people like the artist and designer Nick Cave, who manage to exist in multiple worlds and balance striking aesthetics with interesting ideas, appealing to both sides of the spectrum.

Although there can be a lot to take in when viewing a Nick Cave exhibition, I always find myself yearning for a little more after seeing some of his sculptures in person.   For this reason especially, I was excited when two concurrent shows opened in Chelsea this September.  The first, at Jack Shainman Gallery titled Ever-After will be on view through this weekend closing on October 8th.  The Mary Boone show, For Now, will be up through October 20th, 2011.

Cave has become known for his soundsuits, full body ensembles that cover the wearer from head to toe, often camouflaging the very shape of the human body.  By masking the identity of the wearer and obfuscating gender, race, and other social cues that we have all become so adept at reading–the wearer of a soundsuit is simultaneously hidden from view and judgment while also redefined as a playful and performative abstraction.  The suits are generally constructed from an elaborate mixture of colorful and tactile materials that generate sound when in motion.  This component of the soundsuits speaks to Cave’s professional dance training at the Alvin Ailey school.  Movement and performance are integral parts of his art and the functioning of the soundsuits.

The earlier soundsuits, and the pieces on display at Mary Boone have a tendency to focus on the individual.  Although they are displayed in groups and bear similarities in style and material, each suit seems to have a different narrative happening.  This is evident in the chaos of the installation.  Figures are arranged in a large cluster, alive with vibrant color and bricolage they portray action even in their stillness.  Materials include buttons, wire, sequins, knit yarns, hair, woven baskets, other textiles, toys, and a variety of found objects.  On the back wall is a circular panel, heavily embellished with sequins and beading.  Further underscoring this idea of individuality, one lone soundsuit is displayed in the back office.  The figure is covered in a fitted knit body suit, covered with sequin florettes and rectangles.  Striped lines snake down the legs of the figure, clumps of pearls fill the center of flowers, and a constellation of ceramic animals hovers around the top half of the figure draped with beaded strands.  At the top of the suit a gramophone horn protrudes outward, mimicking the gesture of sound while highlighting its absence in the stillness of the figure.

As the chair of the fashion design department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (see Kat’s prior Grad School Profile on this institution here), Cave is not an artist that shies away from associations with fashion.  In fact, several of his soundsuits were used in a photo shoot last year for the American Vogue September 2010 issue.  The feature titled, Monsters Inc., was shot by photographer Raymond Meier and contained a handful of furry handbags by labels such as Dolce and Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Reed Krakoff, and Yves Saint Laurent, which were paired with a number of Cave’s colorful soundsuits.

While the Mary Boone show seems to be more of a continuation of Cave’s older work, the Ever-After exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery has a distinctly different feel to it.  Although there are similarities between the two, the most striking difference is the changed social dimension and interconnectedness of all the figures.  This is seen both literally and figuratively, as two pieces in the show titled: Speak Louder, are comprised of multiple figures that are joined by draped swags of fabric.

Another piece titled, Mating Season, contains a long row of rabbit-headed figures created from human hair.  For more history on the use of human hair, see Tove’s earlier post on hair in fashion here.

Overall, I found the more subdued palette and uniformity of some of the pieces at this second show to be more thought provoking.  The similarities between the groups and individual pieces ultimately drew attention to their distinctive differences, and the way that the figures were arranged charged the dialogue between them.  The subtlety of the palette also recommends a closer examination of the materials used to create the figures, many of which are quotidian sewing materials–extraordinary only through their application.  The draped element to the construction of some of these newer forms allows for a glimpse of the undersides of parts of the materials.  These exposed elements add vulnerability to the forms in a way that feels contradictory to the sealed protection that other pieces provide.

The Jack Shainman show also contains a room with video, showing some of his more colorful and dynamic soundsuits in motion, which adds the important auditory dimension to those works while simultaneously underscoring the absence of sound and movement in pieces like Speak Louder.

Nick Cave also has work on display currently at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington DC.  He will be participating in the Prospect 2 Biennial in New Orleans that opens on October 22nd.  For more information on the work of Nick Cave, see the Jack Shainman Gallery Website.  There is also a book on his work titled Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth.


Images 1-7: Installation shots, Mary Boone Gallery

Image 8: Vogue Magazine, September 2010 issue

Images 9-14: Installation shots, Jack Shainman Gallery

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  • Jacqueline October 06, 2011 07.56 am

    Nick Cave’s work is always thought provoking and stunning. I doubt a viewer could walk away from an exhibition without feeling inspired. His work is quite popular right now in the contemporary art world and I am excited to see what he does next. In a recent interview in WWD, he mused about returning to more fashion-focused work in the future.

  • Leslie Brownstein October 10, 2011 03.35 pm

    Nick….saw your work in Kansas City during the KCAI Alumni weekend and it is gorgeous.

  • Leslie Brownstein October 10, 2011 03.36 pm

    Are you a KCAI grad??? I’m ’75 ceramics. Your work is fantastic, especially in person.


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