Experience Nick Cave: Feat. – Opening September 14

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ORLANDO, September 4, 2018 – The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) is proud to present Nick Cave: Feat., on view from September 14 – December 31, 2018. The exhibition opening reception will be held on September 14th from 6:30-8pm and will feature a cash bar, complimentary soft drinks and an opportunity to meet the artist Nick Cave. Following the reception, there will be a served gourmet dinner in the museum with the artist and will conclude with a tour of Nick Cave: Feat. Tickets to this dining event are $150 per person and very limited. Proceeds benefit OMA.

On one level, Cave’s creations, bursting with color and texture, are optical delights that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages and backgrounds. On another, they speak to issues of identity and social justice—specifically race, gun violence, and civic responsibility. Cave’s practice largely developed in response to Rodney King’s beating by members of the Los Angeles Police Department more than twenty-five years ago. As acts of hate continue to threaten dreams of true and sustainable change, society perhaps more than ever needs opportunities for healing from the wounds of racism. 

His soundsuits, made from upcycled everyday materials such as buttons, plastic hair-beads, old toys, and domestic textiles, can be viewed as playful, but began as a form of social critique. They were originally conceived as a protective type of armor in the wake of the King incident, when Cave felt particularly vulnerable as an African American man. He has stated, “I started thinking about myself more and more as a black man—as someone who was discarded, devalued, viewed as ‘less than.’” Sitting in a Chicago park, Cave began to gather twigs and sticks (also discarded and devalued), eventually stringing them into a wearable sculpture. When he put it on, he realized he had created a second skin that camouflaged his race, gender, class, and sexuality, thereby shielding him from judgment. He called the work a “soundsuit” because of the rustling noise generated as he walked around in it. While soundsuits mask physical features of wearers, their “loud” auditory and visual presence boldly expresses alternate identities.

Aesthetically related to Mardi Gras Indian costumes, African ceremonial attire, and Tibetan folk costumes, soundsuits illustrate how Cave straddles the visual and performing arts. In motion, they are a seamless combination of sculpture, dance, and fashion—a blending of genres that reflects his MFA in fiber arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art, his studies with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and his position as a professor in the fashion design department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The now five-hundred-plus specimens in the expansive and ongoing series have become a collective army of resistance to profiling and violence, responding not only to police brutality but any crime motivated by hate—from the killing of Emanuel AME church members in Charleston to the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. Like the rest of Cave’s recent work, they broadcast an increasingly urgent call for justice.

“Nick Cave is one of the most provocative artists to be presented at the Orlando Museum of Art” said Glen Gentele, Director & CEO of the Museum. “Cave’s work crosses disciplines with intense finesse and beautifully exposes many of the deep social issues of our times” he continued.

Transformation is a theme that runs throughout Cave’s work. In addition to offering a shapeshifting shamanistic-like experience through soundsuits, most of his sculptures are made by transforming unwanted objects into “fine” art. In some ways, he sees himself as rescuing the objects he purchases from flea markets, antique malls, and thrift stores by giving them new life and purpose, a notion underscored by a series devoted to found dog figurines. He has a nostalgic connection to many of the items, especially the ceramic birds and flowers that remind him of those admired and collected by his grandparents.

Transformation can also occur during the viewing experience itself. Cave sees a need for more time and space in contemporary society to cultivate personal dreams and aspirations. Through immersive installations of his work, he wants to transport viewers to a dream state—away from the complexities of our contemporary lives—where we can get lost in our own imaginations. Cave’s emphasis on the imagination is not to escape reality, but to create new ideas to help us navigate, maybe even improve, our condition. Visitors to Feat. immediately encounter a fantastic environment. A runway of otherworldly-seeming soundsuits is backed by a long wall covered with thousands of shimmering buttons attached to black fabric. This “button wall” is meant to suggest a starry night sky. For Cave, it conjures happy memories of lying in his grandparents’ fields as a child in the Missouri countryside with his six brothers and the awe they felt while looking for constellations and shooting stars. 

Viewers may also feel enveloped by a life-size projection of the video Blot. Cave began working seriously in video around 2010 and sees the medium as a natural extension of his sculpture and performance art. Through movement, the soundsuits are able to fulfill their potential as instruments of transformation and creative expression. In Blot, a figure in a black raffia soundsuit continually evolves against a stark white background, like inkblots on a Rorschach test. Viewers can become absorbed in watching the shape endlessly morph before their eyes and listening to the exaggerated sound of the raffia swooshing through the air. A large-scale installation of an Architectural Forest with thousands of brightly colored beads and almost psychedelically patterned strands of bamboo encourages personal and interactive relationships as well. As visitors walk around the hanging elements, which collectively suggest an enchanted forest of sorts, their visual perception of its architecture repeatedly shifts, enhancing the sense of wonder and discovery.

At the heart of Cave’s practice is his belief that art can be an agent of connectivity and compassion. A self-described messenger, he wants his work to extend beyond museum and gallery walls to reach and include a population that may not often experience meaningful aesthetic or cultural events. Cave’s goal is to bring people of different backgrounds together, showcase underrecognized talents on a highly visible platform, and give participants a sense of their worth and potential.

The term Feat. refers both to the way acts are often listed in promotional materials and to the exceedingly hard work that goes into attaining success (it takes, for example, roughly seven hours to hand-sew just one square foot of a button soundsuit). Through this exhibition, Cave hopes to provide a transformative, inspirational, and empowering opportunity for all. This exhibition was organized by the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee.

For more information, visit omart.org or contact Michael Caibio at 407.896.4231 ext. 233 or mcaibio@omart.org.

Image credit: (left to right): Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2016. Mixed media, including a mask with horns, various toys, globes, wire, metal, and mannequin, 85 x 45 x 40 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Nick Cave. Photo: James Prinz Photography; Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2015. Mixed media, including enameled can lids, macramé, shoelaces, plastic beads, metal, and mannequin, 99 x 32 x 27 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Nick Cave. Photo: James Prinz Photography; Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011. Ceramic birds and figures, metal flowers, gramophone, wig, beads, metal armature, appliquéd, knitted and crocheted fabric on mannequin, 112 1/2 x 58 x 47 1/2 in. Collection of the Orlando Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisition Trust. © Nick Cave. Photo: Raymond Martinot; Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2013. Mixed media, including vintage bunny, safety pin craft baskets, hot pads, fabric, metal, and mannequin, 111 x 36 x 36 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. © Nick Cave. Photo: James Prinz Photography.