‘Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth’ Comes to SAM (Photo Gallery)
American artist Nick Cave is known for his idiosyncratic Soundsuit sculptures, which he can actually wear and dance in. For most of the Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth exhibit (March 10 through June 5 at the Seattle Art Museum), organized by San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, you’ll see them on mannequins.
Ten new suits have been added to the SAM stop on the exhibit’s tour, bringing the total to more than 50, courtesy of the artist and the Jack Shainman Gallery. Thankfully, there’s also a multimedia wing, where you can see and hear the suits in motion, and SAM and Cave have partnered with Spectrum Dance Theater and Cornish College of the Arts for performances at SAM and improvised “invasions” around Seattle–to discover how Seattle will welcome unknown visitors.
Spectrum’s Donald Byrd is also one of the commenters on SAM’s audio guide to the exhibit–you can call it up on your cell phone while visiting, or download it in advance. (All of this, by the way, is made possible by funders such as the NEA, PONCHO, 4Culture, and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation–and all except the last are fighting for survival as politicians sharpen their budget axes.)
There’s too much to say about Nick Cave’s Soundsuit sculptures that doesn’t approximate standing in a room full of them. SAM actually has two in its permanent exhibit, so you may have been startled by them before; out of the corner of your eye, they register as a human form, but upon closer inspection, you feel an eerie sense of material come to life.
Though Nick Cave has an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is Chair of the Fashion Department there, his creations are built from finds in thrift and secondhand stores (or even just twigs, in the case of his first Soundsuit, which grew out of the L.A. riots and images of bristly, angry black men).
They’re made from sweaters and stuffed toys, pipestems and buttons, cassette tape and human hair. Critics flail in describing the effects of these elaborate constructions; his Soundsuits are, you’re told, “a cross between Carnival, Liberace, Shonibare, Cockney, haute couture, and African ceremony.” That’s what an over-caffeinated and -educated head will throw out at you, but I encourage you to take some time to visit with these creatures in a “Where the Wild Things Are” frame of mind.
Don’t be in such a hurry to deconstruct, when construction is so much work. These are imaginary pelts on “unknown visitors.” It’s their surreal coherence, as beings, that nudges you to ask how they’d like to be treated, or how they feel when they dance.