Silence & Sound

Saint Louis Art Museum delves into the multilayered world of artist and Missouri native Nick Cave.

 

Missouri-born artist Nick Cave is making waves in the art world with his unique works that span sculpture, fashion, installation and performance—but, until now, he’s never shown solo in his home state. Last year, Saint Louis Art Museum curators identified the Fulton native as a perfect fit for SLAM’s new East Building, and began exploring the possibility of a solo exhibition to follow Cave’s high-profile appearances at the Denver Art Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. His colorful works—at once conceptual, figurative and literal—incorporate found and repurposed materials and use the whimsical to seduce viewers into exploring the social and political commentary below the surface. The definition of mixed media, Cave’s Soundsuits of yarn, hair, raffia, buttons, beads and found objects, sourced from flea markets and thrift stores, are named for the brusssshing and whooshhhing sounds they make as they’re worn. His first was inspired by the police beating of Rodney King in 1991, and it’s “Speak Louder,” a group Soundsuit shown in SLAM’s current exhibition, that evokes these refrains of the political over the social critique imbued in his more recent suits. Through all of his pieces, though, runs a thread of nostalgia. In honor of Cave’s arrival at SLAM (“Currents 109: Nick Cave” runs Oct. 31 through March 8, 2015), ALIVE spoke with Nichole Bridges, associate curator in charge of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, and co-curator of the Cave exhibition, to share a visual preview of the works and insight into what visitors can glean from the much-anticipated event.

 

5626_1779.jpgSoundsuit, 2014; mixed media including beaded and sequined fabric, bugle beads, shoelaces, fabric, metal and mannequin.

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“I love [the Tondos]‰ÛÓthey’re so dazzling and shimmering. Cave was thinking of crazy quilts, made of asymmetrical and dynamic, irregular patches that also incorporate more exotic fabrics and findings. The tondos are created from pieces of formal dresses that he assembled and stretched across the frame‰ÛÓthey’re enormous. He likened it to being an ant in the garden and being overwhelmed by the landscape and the sky. The tondo is a Renaissance format, the round paintings. Because of the materials and the way they’re assembled, it’s very much like a low relief. They’re very sculptural in a way.”

Tondo, 2012; mixed media including beaded and sequined garments, fabric and wood.

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“In general, in his use of found objects, there is something of a social critique on waste and consumerism. Nick sources all of this material himself. He makes regular visits to flea markets and antique malls; he’s out and about finding [it], so he selects things that inspire him and collects categories of things that he has in stock in his studio. He keeps them in an organized way so he can draw from them when they call to him. The work is layered in so many ways‰Û_literally and figuratively. They’re freestanding sculptures but can also be performed. He has a very deep sense of social consciousness and a mission, and he’s very community minded and interested in reaching out and embracing diverse audiences. He really deplores elitism in museums, galleries and cultural communities. He very much sees his work as a vehicle for change.”

Soundsuit, 2011; mixed media including sock monkeys, sweaters and mannequin.

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“I love [the Tondos]‰ÛÓthey’re so dazzling and shimmering. Cave was thinking of crazy quilts, made of asymmetrical and dynamic, irregular patches that also incorporate more exotic fabrics and findings. The tondos are created from pieces of formal dresses that he assembled and stretched across the frame‰ÛÓthey’re enormous. He likened it to being an ant in the garden and being overwhelmed by the landscape and the sky. The tondo is a Renaissance format, the round paintings. Because of the materials and the way they’re assembled, it’s very much like a low relief. They’re very sculptural in a way.”

Tondo, 2012; mixed media including beaded and sequined garments, fabric and wood.

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“What Nick has said about this work is that it is actually sort of a mourning piece, something akin to a Mardi Gras funerary procession as a response to the youth violence in this country‰ÛÓviolence against and among black youth in particular. With ‰Û÷Speak Louder,’ what you see are words that have no mouth; they’re tuba-shaped heads, but they’re completely sealed off and trapped against each other. What could be a Mardi Gras brass band can make no sound. What’s really expressed is the distress that these represent‰ÛÓvoices that are unheard. Underlying all the Soundsuits is the political origin of the first Soundsuit‰ÛÓthe response to prejudice‰ÛÓso these Soundsuits ultimately conceal and disguise identity, or a supposed identity, that basically prevents anyone else from making a predetermined judgment about the person inside the suit. The supposed identity is annihilated by the Soundsuit, so it’s a way of deflecting prejudice.”

Speak Louder, 2011; mixed media including black mother-of-pearl buttons, embroidery floss, upholstery, metal armature and mannequin.

 

Photo credit: James Prinz Photography

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