Seattle Art Museum (SAM) Opens Nick Cave Meet Me at the Center of the Earth

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth on view from March 10, 2011.

The exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) features more than 50 wearable sculptures called Soundsuits, as well as beaded tondos and multi-media installations. The exhibition will also be highlighted by a series of Soundsuit performances and “invasions” that will surprise residents of the Puget Sound region in unexpected locations during the run of the show.

Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth, is the first major museum tour for Nick Cave, and debuted at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco in 2009. In Seattle, the exhibition will include four galleries of brand new Soundsuits provided by the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery and never before seen in a museum setting. The Seattle presentation will also include one of Cave’s twig-based Soundsuits, which launched his exploration of this original form in 1992 as a response to the Los Angeles Riots after the Rodney King incident. The exhibition will be on view at SAM Downtown through June 5, 2011.

“Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth is an invitation by the artist to break free from the confines of our daily life and travel to a place in which imagination is unencumbered,” said SAM’s Pamela McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art. “Nick Cave is an extraordinary artist whose work is a true confluence of art, movement and sound that is impossible to resist.”

Cave’s works have been described as a cross between Carnival, African ceremony and haute couture. With an explosion of color and texture, Cave draws upon his deep understanding of a broad range of disciplines including fiber arts, fashion design and dance, to create powerful sculptural suits from an unusual array of found objects. His Soundsuits are made with impeccable craftsmanship using such materials as buttons, plastic tabs, beads, hot pads, metal flowers, twigs, spinning tops and human hair. The Soundsuits are designed to be both statically displayed and worn for a full sensory experience. Before the Soundsuits leave his studio, Cave wears each and every one.

Visitors to Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth will be welcomed to the exhibition by an upright bear which appears to be guarding the entrance to Cave’s world. The journey continues as Cave’s human-scale Soundsuits are poised in a fashion runway, of sorts. The exhibition is organized by materials and typology, but repeatedly presents the unexpected. For instance, in a 2007 Soundsuit ceramic birds enshroud an embroidered tiger mask, leaving an impression of someone engulfed in what he most wants yet can’t quite reach; in a Soundsuit from 2008, spinning toys evoke a mind that cannot sit still; and a Soundsuit of dyed human hair from 2009 juxtaposes the whimsy of raucous day-glow colors against the stately physical presence.

Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth will also include two galleries of Cave’s media works, in which the artist enables common materials such as marbles and plastic bags to transform before your eyes. In some of these works, he also records the lives of Soundsuits in action, flowing through spaces or activating crowds in cities across the United States. Still photographs of the artist inhabiting his unusual suits will also be shown. To add a sense of Nick Cave’s relation to art history, an adjacent gallery will feature selections from SAM’s permanent collection, including an Egungun costume from the Yoruba of Nigeria, the 1999 sculpture Higher Level of Cat by enigmatic American artist David Hammons and the 1997 assemblage 200 Men and 400 Women of African Descent by local artist Marita Dingus.

One of the hallmarks of Nick Cave’s art is the push beyond the limits of the gallery setting, and the blurring of boundaries between visual art and performance. To this end, SAM and the artist are partnering with Cornish College of the Arts and Spectrum Dance Theater to produce both staged performances at the museum and improvised public appearances throughout Seattle. Staying true to his collaborative nature, Cave opts to delegate these site-specific productions to local choreographers and dancers, rather than set the movement and staging for every location of the exhibition’s tour. Details for some of these Soundsuit Invasions will be announced, while specifics about others will be spontaneous, mirroring the playful, surprise element of many of Cave’s works.

“Something inexplicable happens when the suits are in motion, the sounds they make give them a magical life of their own, “Nick Cave writes in the exhibition’s catalogue. “ I would love it if everyone could put one on and feel the thrill that happens. My Soundsuits allow identities to be lost or hidden and new ones to be claimed.”

As part of his artistic vision, Nick Cave has designed objects, wearables and paper goods that viewers can take outside the museum walls. Stemming from his years in retail display and fashion design, Cave created his online as a way to share imaginative experiences with electronic visitors that cannot be reached by exhibitions. As an extension of this practice, the artist will include a pop-up shop within the exhibition at SAM, featuring cards, tee shirts, punching bags and wrapping paper and other products.

Image: Nick Cave, SoundSuit, 2010. Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery. Photo: James Prinz.

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