"Whether Nick Cave's efforts qualify as fashion, body art or sculpture ... they fall squarely under the heading of Must Be Seen to Be Believed." —Roberta Smith, New York Times
"Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth," on display at the Fowler Museum at UCLA from Jan. 10 through May 30, 2010, is the largest presentation of work by the Chicago-based artist, featuring 35 of his "Soundsuits" — multilayered, mixed-media sculptures named for the sounds made when the "suits" are performed.
The exhibition's opening night party will be held Saturday, Jan. 9, and will feature music by KCRW's Jason Bentley.
Evocative of African, Caribbean and other ceremonial ensembles, as well as haute couture, Cave's work explores issues of transformation, ritual, myth and identity through a layering of references and virtuosic construction, using materials as varied as yarn, beads, sequins, bottle caps, vintage toys, rusted iron sticks, twigs, leaves and hair.
Mad, humorous, visionary, glamorous and unexpected, the Soundsuits are created from scavenged, ordinary materials and objects from both nature and culture, which Cave recontextualizes into extraordinary works of art. The Fowler is the first Los Angeles–area museum to feature Cave's work and the only Southern California venue for this traveling exhibition.
The Fowler presentation of this exhibition holds particular meaning for the artist and for Los Angeles because Cave's first Soundsuit was sparked by the civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992 following the acquittal of the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating.
The Soundsuits almost always cover the whole body, erasing the identity of the wearer. Thus, the Soundsuits can be understood as coats of armor, shielding Cave from the day-to-day prejudice he encounters as an African American man and facilitating a transformation into an invented realm of vibrant associations and meanings.
"In addition to this particular relevance for Los Angeles, Nick Cave's Soundsuits resonate with many of the genres of global art for which the Fowler is known, including African masquerade ensembles, Haitian Vodou beaded flags, Carnival costumes and examples from our vast textile collections," said Marla C. Berns, the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum. "This presentation is one in a succession of solo shows focusing on works by artists that speak to the museum's collections and exhibition history and highlight our capacity to provocatively consider interdisciplinary international work."
Other such artists who have had recent solo exhibitions at the Fowler are El Anatsui, Franco Mondini-Ruiz, Samta Benyahia and Edouard Duval-Carrié.
For this exhibition, Cave also employs animal imagery in ways as complex and multilayered as the human-based suits. While conjuring the spiritual strength and power of animal totems used in ancient rituals from around the world, Cave's Soundsuits also become vessels of transformation and seek to connect us to the Earth and the animals around us. Using wit, humor and a fanciful sensibility, Cave's Soundsuits beg us to pay attention and to dream of a different future.
"To me, everything outside of myself is community," Cave said. "I don't see myself as an artist but as a humanitarian using art to create change. My hope is that these new Soundsuits will cause people to find ways to live with each other, extend our compassion to other communities and take care of our natural resources. If I can create an opportunity to bring people of all creeds, identities and interests together, then I am doing my work."
A video montage of the suits being worn in performance will give viewers a sense of the cacophony of sounds and sensations that are integral to the work. In addition, the Fowler is partnering with dancers and choreographers in the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures to create a series of performance-interventions in and around Los Angeles that will animate a special set of wearable Soundsuits. Performance times and locations will be announced via the Fowler's Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/FowlerMuseum).
Nick Cave received his B.F.A. from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1982 and his M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1989. He studied fiber art but is committed to a broad spectrum of interests and disciplines. Cave is an associate professor and chairman of the fashion department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he teaches in the fiber arts program. He has led such workshops as "Extending the Body: Experiments in Clothing" and has designed, manufactured and marketed his own line of men's and women's clothing. He has received numerous awards, including a United States Artists Fellowship (2006) and a Joyce Award (2006), and his work has appeared in solo and group exhibitions across the U.S. and Europe.
"Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" has been organized by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.
The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country's most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m.; it is closed Monday and Tuesday. The Fowler, part of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $10 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call 310-825-4361 or visit www.fowler.ucla.edu.