August 2010, Nick Cave @ UCLA Fowler Museum

Nick Cave, Mitre 3 (Soundsuit)
Photo by James Prinz, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

Nick Cave: Meet Me At the Center of the Earth
UCLA Fowler Museum
North Campus, UCLA
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1549
January 10 to May 30, 2010

The largest showcase of Chicago artist Nick Cave’s sculptures ever exhibited, Meet Me at The Center of the Earth at UCLA Fowler Museum was a foray into the world of a flamboyant visionary. The Fowler seemed an ideal venue to showcase 35 of his creations – a space not so large as to swallow up the pieces, yet big enough to allow visitors to wander around, enjoying every vantage point without feeling the press of the crowd.

Borrowing from primitive and contemporary motifs, Cave has created an imaginative series of soundsuits – multi-layered, mixed media sculptures that mimic the human form, and are actually meant to be worn. These inventive and colorful costumes have the added capacity to make sounds during performance. The Soundsuits were mounted on mannequins grouped along winding walkways in dimly lit galleries. Extravagant concoctions, the sculptures are made from a grab bag of scavenged materials. Cave explores themes of transformation and reinvention by introducing ordinary found objects - recycled potholders, vintage toys, yarn, sequins, bottle caps, rusted iron sticks, hair and china knick knacks - into surprising new contexts in whimsical and unexpected ways. Some of the pieces are like shaggy-furred wild mythical creatures, others are resplendent – studded with glittering buttons and sequins, or decked out in ornaments. The most dramatic of the soundsuits featured absurd juxtapositions of bric-a-brac – metal flowers and ornate apparatuses such as candelabra, festooned with china birds and other decorations. Even more fantastic were a few soundsuits with vintage tin toys and musical instruments sprouting from random metal appendages like bizarre antenna.

Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Centre of the Earth (Soundsuit)
Photo by James Prinz, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

A brilliant cacophony of color is a constant throughout Cave’s creations. Reminiscent of African and Caribbean ceremonial costumes, like those worn at Carnivals and Junkanoo parades, the Soundsuits incorporate fibers that rustle, bits and pieces that rattle and clank, and vintage tin percussion instruments that might have been rescued from a forgotten toy box in a musty attic. Interestingly, the majority of the soundsuits were faceless. Designed to cover the head of the wearer, most of the pieces are hooded, with no facial features or openings for faces to show through. Clearly, Cave has made this choice deliberately – enrobing the identity of the wearer in mystery.

Complementing the 3-dimensional pieces were two magnificent tondos - enormous round wall hangings. Ornate textile compositions woven with vibrant color and textures, the tondos offer another stunning iteration of Cave’s singular artistry. As part of the finale of the exhibit, the Fowler Museum co-hosted a free community event with Los Angeles National Public Radio affiliate, KCRW. On the UCLA grounds outside the Fowler, dancers in soundsuits brought Cave's vision to life while DJs worked the turntables. Combining dance, art and costume design was a natural progression for Cave. He learned to sew as an undergraduate at the Kansas City Art Institute and trained as a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre before earning an MFA in fiber arts at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Nick Cave: Installation view at the Fowler Museum
Photo by Reed Hutchinson, courtesy of the artist and UCLA Fowler Museum

Nick Cave: Installation view at the Fowler Museum
Photo by Reed Hutchinson, courtesy of the artist and UCLA Fowler Museum



Megan Abrahams

Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings. 

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