Monday, July 09, 2012

Nick Cave at the Boise Art Museum

Thanks to the wonders of the iPhone and my Kindle Fire, as we traveled last week I was able to read my email. The discussion on the SAQA (Studio Art Quilts Associates) list was about "trends" in art. The comments were interesting and as much as I would have liked to toss in my two cents worth, typing on my small devices was more trouble than I wanted to go to and so I just watched the discussion evolve. I knew, eventually, someone would express my point of view and, of course they did. The "trends" thread led to mention of "cutting edge" artwork, and there was some outrage and some confusion and some asking what that even meant. (What does it mean??)  And finally, from Sandy Donabed, who never disappoints me when a voice of reason and intelligence is needed, a challenge. Go look at some contemporary art and think about it and learn about it and report back.

As luck (or something) would have it, the first stop on our road trip was Boise, and as we often do in Boise, we made time for a visit to the Boise Art Museum. It is a small art museum in a smallish city, but I am often impressed with the high quality of the exhibits. Really great museum. I recommend it if you find yourself in Boise. The current show is "Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth." I think it might qualify as cutting edge.

I was confused about Nick Cave. I thought he was a musician. Well turns out there are two. This one. And this one. The artist is a former dancer with the Alvin Ailey company and now teaches at the Art School of the Chicago Art Institute. His visual works are mostly large "suits" that can be worn or exhibited as sculpture. The first piece we saw as we entered the exhibit was this huge bear, constructed from striped wool sweaters.

All of his work is big—taller than human size—and has a sense of iconic tribal figures and costumes. I was immediately reminded of African dancers, and yet the materials used are mundane, often "tacky" artifacts of American life. Old sweaters, cheap toys, hotpads, doilies, knickknacks, synthetic fur and glittery souvenirs. And yet there is a kind of dignity and mystery, and I found myself circling and circling and discovering all I could about each piece.

 How clever is this? The repeating circular images on old tops and those 
same patterns crocheted into hot pads?

These suits he calls "soundsuits" and the sound that is made by a human moving inside the piece becomes a part of the work, taking the work from static artwork to performance.

Lots of ceramic bird figurines!
Nick Cave is clearly influenced by his dance background. These suits are made to move and make noise. There is a costume influence at work here. He also says his aesthetic comes from a poor childhood and a mother who delighted in his creativity, though it was created from found objects, old clothing and whatever was cheap or free. There is a sense of the collector and the joy of serendipity as odd objects come together and speak to one another and dance together. Whereas it could be chaotic, it is ordered and intentional and each piece has its own meaning and personality. It makes you smile. It makes you laugh. It comforts you with familiarity and surprises you with originality and unexpected combinations.

Would you take it home for the family room? Of course not. This seems to be the common objection to unconventional art. It isn't conventionally "pretty" or "tasteful". Some of it is hard to understand. Some of it is downright disturbing! But if it makes you react, or laugh, or cry, or feel somehow a little bit off-center, then it is communicating something that the artist feels. It is more than decor. It could be a message or a question or just a feeling of joyful abandon. It makes you feel something new. This is what I love about art.

Photography was not allowed in the museum. All images here were gleaned from the internet, but these were all pieces that were in the exhibit.


  1. Thanks for sharing these. I've seen a piece or two on TV before, but seeing several pieces together brings a lot more cohesiveness to my thoughts about the pieces...and lots of fascination with them.

  2. These are pretty awesome. thanks for showing them.
    No, perhaps not something for the lounge, but then again, perhaps something that might make you want to have a bigger house (and money?) so you could own the bear and just have a joy in the soul moment now and then when you encountered him on your daily journeys round the house.
    Sandy in the UK

  3. These are wildly cool. Never seen anything like it (thanks for sharing). It's almost like an uninhibited modern quilter meets sculptor. I bet they're super impactful in real life. :)

  4. Lucky you. I love his work and would love to see it in person!!

  5. Oh, my, what a wonderful find! Gorgeous. Tribal. Delightful...maybe a teeny disturbing. Your pics do make me smile...and thank you for that.

    ps...I too read Sandy, her blog, and particularly her take on conversations. I admire the grounded realism.

  6. Anonymous9:43 PM

    Thanks for sharing this work...very fun to look at...and thwart lesson :-). Beth

  7. Hi!
    So sorry you weren't allowed to take photos! When Nick Cave's exhibition was in Charleston, SC at the Halsey Institution, I WAS ALLOWED and found that looking through my lens, selecting detail shots, and truly searching for a way to capture these pieces added to the experience of seeing them. Perhaps that's why I certainly WOULD be happy with one right in the middle of my living room! If only it were possible!

  8. I wouldn't mind renting these for a couple of years -- one a month, perhaps, so I could spend a lot of time looking and thinking and meandering around them. One would fit in my living room and if I could wear it and dance to the sounds, I might even find myself (with drapes closed, of course) doing that.

    They are fascinating and unlike much found art, truly intriguing and worth more than just the idea of "found" art. I wouldn't want the Duchamp's urinal in my house, but I think one of these -- or better yet a rotating set of them -- would be marvelous. Maybe I'd trade my couch for one --snort--

    Thanks, Terry. June

  9. Fabulous exhibit - I'm tempted to drive the 400 miles to Boise to see it.

  10. Love Nick Cave. We are so lucky in Pittsburgh to have been able to see his work from group to solo shows at the Society for Contemporary Craft. My first exposure was a group show in which he had covered large circles with found materials, stunning. Later his sounds suits. I would definitely put one in my living room front and center and I would never tire of looking at it!

    You might find this video interesting students create the sound suits and talk about Cave and the experience. Came across this link from a Facebook update.

    Thanks for posting!

  11. I'd love to see those suits in real life. I've enjoyed looking at them from afar for years. I too was associating the sound suits with the Nick Cave who sings God's Hotel. Thank you for clarifying for me that there are two!

  12. Anonymous10:11 AM

    I love this man. He embodies so much of my perception of art. He does make you smile.