Seeing Double: Nick Cave

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Published September 1, 2011

In a perfect world, human beings would be able to transcend race, class and gender. In the meantime, Chicago-based artist Nick Cave has set out to achieve this through his art, by dedicating his oeuvre to “Soundsuits,” colorful, life-size sculptures and wearable performance pieces, which are “second skin” costumes. Two simultaneous shows, “For Now” at Mary Boone and “Ever After” at Jack Shainman, are opening to coincide with Fashion Week, and Cave will present 50 new suits, made of buttons, feathers, wire, upholstery, and even human hair.

While the exhibitions, which took eight months and 25 assistants to complete, aren’t necessarily dependent on each other, Cave tells Interview they are connected. “Ever After” is in memory  of the artist’s friend [curator and artist] Matthew Mascotte, “and is coming from a more internal place.” The palette is black and white, and suits are made from shell buttons. “It’s extremely minimal and somewhat somber.” And “For Now” is, in the artist’s words “loud, sort of extreme, fantastic, and about inviting [you] to come and play on the playground. It’s fun, it’s whimsical, it’s in your face, it’s political, and it’s emotional. And I think [these two shows demonstrate] this balance in one’s own identity.”

Cave, who has a background in modern dance and studied textiles and sculpture, merged these disciplines when the “Soundsuits” were conceived in 1992 as a reaction to the Rodney King beatings. The artist explains, “They described [King] as larger than life, scary, and that it took ten policemen to bring him down. I started thinking, what does that look like and how do I identify myself as a black male? I was thinking the moment I leave my studio my identity is in jeopardy.”

His first suit was made out of twigs. “What I was really creating was something to protect my identity, something to protect my spirit, and somehow it was seductive and you were curious about it.” Today, at their most vibrant, the suits evoke the disparate worlds of Dr. Suess, tribal costumery, the natural environment, and the intricate craftsmanship of a couture designer.

Corresponding to the upcoming exhibitions, Cave teamed up with Artspace.com to launch two limited edition prints, photographs of work recently shown at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. “Ever After” opens at Jack Shainman Gallery on Sept. 8, 6-8 PM; “For Now” opens at Mary Boone  Chelsea on Sept. 10, 6-8 PM. The Artspace.com prints will be released Sept. 6 at 12 PM for one week.