Nick Cave at Mass MoCA: an immersive political piece with endless found objects

If you think you know Nick Cave, think again. The artist known for his wearable sculptures called Soundsuits turns expectations inside out at MASS MoCA in a massive immersive installation opening on October 15; not a single Soundsuit will be found in this exhibition. The opening reception features a performance in the exhibition space by Shreveport, Louisiana, musicians Brenda Wimberly and Sereca Henderson, and is held from 5:30pm to 7pm. Following the reception, Mercury Prize-winning singer-poet Benjamin Clementine performs in MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center at 8:30pm.

13 Gilded Pigs and 10 miles of Crystals

Cave uses MASS MoCA’s signature football field-sized space to create his largest and most overtly political installation to date, made up of thousands of found objects, which will make viewers feel as if they have entered a rich sensory tapestry, like stepping directly inside the belly of one of his iconic Soundsuits. The sheer volume of material that has been gathered is astounding — 16,000 wind spinners; millions of plastic pony beads; thousands of ceramic birds, fruits, and animals; 13 gilded pigs; more than 10 miles of crystals; 24 chandeliers; 1 crocodile; and 17 cast-iron lawn jockeys.

Cave’s first Soundsuit, made out of twigs, was a direct response to the Rodney King beating, a visual image about social justice that was both brutal and empowering. Just as the violence around the Rodney King beating was the impetus to Cave’s early work, the death of men such as Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown drives his new imagery. For Cave’s MASS MoCA installation, Until — a play on the phrase “innocent until proven guilty,” or in this case “guilty until proven innocent” — he addresses issues of gun violence, gun control policy, race relations, and gender politics in America today.

Until begins with a dense sculptural field of metallic lawn ornaments leading to a crystal cloud topped by a private garden populated with birds, flowers, and black-face lawn jockeys, finally coming to rest before a cliff wall hand-woven with shoelaces and hundreds of thousands of colorful pony beads. This is an active space where alluring kinetics and a sumptuous, overwhelming materiality give way to stark images of guns, bullets, and targets, positioning us all as culpable, vulnerable, and potentially under attack. The aim of this is pointed, questioning us to spark discussion about important issues in a space that is at once dazzling, provocative, and — ultimately — optimistic. Cave believes in humanity, celebrating possibility while also creating a forum for critical discussion that eventually provokes the question, “Is there racism in heaven?”

Cave has come to see himself as a messenger, endeavoring to coalesce communities, discuss important issues, and ultimately heal through art. “I view this work as an elaborate community forum, as much as a work of sculpture,” notes Cave. As such, the gallery will double as a stage for internationally known dancers, singer-songwriters, pop artists, poets, and composers, together with panel discussions, community forums, and other forms of creative public debate and engagement. The inaugural performers — Brenda Wimberly, a soprano singer anchored in gospel music roots, and Sereca Henderson, a musicologist, singer, and organist who has played with Eric Clapton and B.B. King — will perform during the exhibition opening reception on October 15. On Friday, October 28, powerhouse vocalist Helga Davis responds to Until with an intimate concert in the exhibition, performed solo with backing loops.

A catalog accompanies the exhibition.

About the Artist

Born in Missouri in 1959, Nick Cave studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, and trained with the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Solo exhibitions include: the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Nick Cave: Sojourn, Denver Art Museum; Nick Cave: The World is My Skin, Trapholt Museum, Denmark; Freeport 006: Nick Cave, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; Fantastic 2012, Lille 3000, Le Tripostal, Lille, France; and HEARD•NY, a large-scale performance in Grand Central Terminal organized by Creative Time. Public collections include the Brooklyn Museum; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the High Museum, Atlanta; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Birmingham Museum of Art; the de Young Museum, San Francisco; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Orlando Museum of Art; the Smithsonian Institution; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Cave has received several awards, including the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, Artadia Award, the Joyce Award, Creative Capital grants, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award. Cave teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

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