Nick Cave (performance artist)

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Nick Cave
Nick cave.jpg
Born(1959-02-04)February 4, 1959
Known forPerformance art, Sculpture
Notable work

Nick Cave (born February 4, 1959 in Fulton, Missouri, United States) is an American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist.[1] He is best known for his Soundsuits: wearable fabric sculptures that are bright, whimsical, and other-worldly. He also trained as a dancer with Alvin Ailey.[2] He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois and is director of the graduate fashion program at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Nick Cave was raised in central Missouri, by a single mother. He is the youngest of seven boys,[1] and the family was of modest means. Cave attributes his interest in found objects and assemblage to his childhood circumstances.[2] Cave showed creativity and artistic ability at a young age. Graduating from Hickman High School in 1977, he enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute. There he continued to express himself through both visual art and performance art and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1982.[4] In 1979, Cave met Alvin Ailey and spent that summer and several summers thereafter in New York, New York studying with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.[2] After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1981, he designed displays for the department store, Macy’s, and worked professionally as a fashion designer, while continuing his passions as an artist and dancer. Cave earned his M.F.A. degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1988.[5] He also did some graduate coursework at North Texas State University.[1]

Joining the faculty of the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, after his graduation from Cranbrook, Cave has built a reputation as an educator and performance artist, especially with his ritualistic costumes called “Soundsuits.” In 2007, he planned an event in Chicago involving three dance companies, musicians and over 120 sculptured suits.


Soundsuits are sculptural costumes enveloping the wearer's body in materials including dyed human hair, sisal, plastic buttons, beads, wire, sequins, and feathers. Soundsuits camouflage the body, masking and creating a second skin that conceals race, gender, and class, forcing the viewer to look without judgment. In using everyday objects, Cave can create an atmosphere of familiarity while rearranging the objects into interpretive representations of both social and material culture.[6] As race, identity, and gender are generally accepted to form the axis of his work,[6] Cave's soundsuits can telegraph many concepts simultaneously. Their meaning can therefore change based on their environment, movement, fixed state, and/or the inclusion of group choreography.[6][7] The finished pieces bear some resemblance to African ceremonial costumes and masks. The suits also reference carnival costumes, Dogon costumes, Rococo, and ball culture.[1]

Cave's first soundsuit was created in 1992, as a reaction to the beating of Rodney King. Cave collected a large number of sticks and twigs from the ground and fashioned them into a suit that made sounds when worn.[1] His suits are most often presented for public viewing as static sculptures, but they are also observed through live performance, video, and photography.[8][9] Bringing his interactive creations to life, "Cave regularly performs in the sculptures himself, dancing either before the public or for the camera, activating their full potential as costume, musical instrument, and living icon."[10] Cave has produced over 500 soundsuits, since the creation of his first in 1992.

HEARD•NY - Soundsuit Performance[edit]

HEARD•NY performance in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall

In 2009 Nick Cave worked with the dancers of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, which he was formerly a dancer in, and created HEARD•NY. This performance took place in one of the cities most bustling thoroughfares, Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall. HEARD•NY was not however pure visual spectacle—it was a deftly layered commentary on ceremony (particularly costumed West African ritual), identity, and the place of dreams in civic life.[11] A herd of thirty colorful life-size horses that broke into choreographed movement—or “crossings”— twice a day for just a week and was accompanied by live music. Each suit was operated by two dancers from the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and made out of brightly-colored synthetic raffia (a kind of African palm.) The project was presented by Creative Time and MTA Arts for Transit as part of a series of events celebrating the centennial of Grand Central. Nick Cave's soundsuits were created to be seen in motion. Choreographed performances such as these show the audience what the soundsuits look and sound like in their true form. [12]

Mixed media[edit]

Cave's work outside of his soundsuits is predominantly mixed media sculptures and large-scale installations.[13] Maintaining his signature style utilizing found objects and brightly colored fabrics, Cave creates sculptural art that discusses current racial tensions, especially gun violence and its impact on Black men.[14] One such piece that speaks directly to this is TM 13, a sculpture that responds to the life and 2012 death of Trayvon Martin.[15] George Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin's murder on July 13, 2013;[15] hence the title "TM 13". By no means the first Black man to be shot due to racial profiling,[16] Martin's case gained national attention and became ingrained in the cultural discourse very quickly.[17] Cave, looking to address this tragedy, created a powerful sculpture centering around a hoodie, denim pants, a Black mannequin, and sneakers. The sculpture is conspicuously covered in a net, "creat[ing] a kind of Soundsuit for the ghost of Trayvon Martin. A way for a dead black teenager to make an outcry and an uproar, to protest against his undeserved demise".[18]

Cave's mixed media sculptures often include black doll or mannequin parts (heads, hands, etc) placed at the center or top of a piece, creating an altar-like semblance. By focusing his pieces in this manner, viewers of his art can "examine the history of trauma and racism, ... the objectification of the black male".[19] His 2014 exhibition "Rescue" "inspects the idea of servitude and the accompanying stigma within the Black community".[19] Most of these works are not audible, like his 2016–2017 exhibition 'Until' at MASS MoCa, as Cave wants the exhibition participants "to be included — and implicated — in the work"[14] as opposed to focusing on sound and movement. The act of viewing his works with participants seeing each other at the same time is a metaconcept Cave actively promotes.[14]


Cave is represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery.[20]

Solo exhibitions / projects:[8]


Teaching Experience[39]

Select Permanent Collections[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Cameron, Dan; Eilertsen, Kate; McClusky, Pam; Cave, Nick (2010). Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. ISBN 978-0-615-24593-5.
  • "At Home and in the Studio with Nick Cave: Home Tour". TRNK.
  • Huston, Johnny Ray (2009-04-09). "A Q&A with Nick Cave". Pixel Vision. San Francisco Bay Guardian.
  • Art21: Nick Cave
  • ALL ARTS: Nick Cave Is Throwing a Dance Party, and Everyone Is Invited


  1. ^ a b c d e Beckwith, Naomi. "Cave, Nick". Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Finkel, Jori (April 5, 2009). "I Dream the Clothing Electric". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "Faculty: Nick Cave". School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
  4. ^ "KCAI alum Nick Cave to present his Soundsuits for school's 125th anniversary gala Feb. 20". Kansas City Star. January 31, 2010.[dead link]
  5. ^ "Nick Cave | The HistoryMakers". Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  6. ^ a b c "Nick Cave | American artist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  7. ^ "HEARD•NY - Creative Time". Creative Time. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  8. ^ a b Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. 2009. ISBN 978-0-615-24593-5.
  9. ^ Anderson, Kirsten (July 2011). "Dance Dance Evolution: the Soundsuits of Nick Cave". Hi-Fructose. 20: 70–79. Retrieved 2014-05-07.
  10. ^ [Lacayo, Richard. "The Noisemaker." Time, vol. 179, 3/27/2012 Special Issue, p. 50. EBSCOhost, "Nick Cave — Art21"] Check |url= value (help). Art21. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  11. ^ "Nick Cave on the Galloping Success of His "Heard NY" Performance". Artspace. Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  12. ^ "Nick Cave's "HEARD•NY" - Creative Time". Creative Time. Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  13. ^ "SOFT SCULPTURE SURVEY: NICK CAVE". Portland Garment Factory. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  14. ^ a b c Loos, Ted (2016-08-12). "The Artist Nick Cave Gets Personal About Race and Gun Violence". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  15. ^ a b "Trayvon Martin". Biography. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  16. ^ "Black Lives Matter". Wikipedia. 2017-03-11.
  17. ^ "Shooting of Trayvon Martin". Wikipedia. 2017-03-11.
  18. ^ "On Encountering Indifferent Objects - ∞ mile Detroit". Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  19. ^ a b "Artist Nick Cave Puts Racism on Display". GOOD Magazine. 2014-09-17. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  20. ^ Jack Shainman Gallery. "Artists". Retrieved 2011-08-04.
  21. ^ Baker, Kenneth (April 21, 2009). "Nick Cave's 'Soundsuits' made from detritus". San Francisco Chronicle.
  22. ^ Abarbanel, Stacey Ravel (2009-10-23). "Fowler Museum presents 'Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth,' Jan 10–May 30, 2010". UCLA Newsroom. Retrieved 2011-08-04.
  23. ^ Isã, Claudine (April 6, 2009). "The Soundsuits of Nick Cave: Contemporary Art or Material Culture?". Bad at Sports.
  24. ^ "Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth". Seattle Art Museum. Retrieved 2011-08-04.
  25. ^ Lightfoot, Judy (March 11, 2011). "S.A.M.'s exhibit of Nick Cave 'soundsuits': a smiling, sumptuous journey". Crosscut. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  26. ^ "Nick Cave: For Now". Mary Boone Gallery.
  27. ^ "Nick Cave: Let's C". The Fabric Workshop and Museum.
  28. ^ "Events at Grand Central Terminal :: Nick Cave: Heard•NY :: Mar 25, 2013". Retrieved March 25, 2013.
  29. ^ "Nick Cave - The World is My Skin" (in Danish). Trapholt.
  30. ^ "FreePort [No. 006]: Nick Cave". Peabody Essex Museum.
  31. ^ "Nick Cave: Sojourn". Denver Art Museum.
  32. ^ "Nick Cave". The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA.
  33. ^ "NICK CAVE, RESCUE, September 4 - October 11, 2014". Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  34. ^ "Nick Cave - Made for Whites".
  35. ^ "Currents 109: Nick Cave". Saint Louis Art Museum.
  36. ^ "Cranbrook Art Museum | Cranbrook Art Museum presents original exhibitions and educational programming on modern and contemporary architecture, art, crafts, and design". Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  37. ^ "Nick CaveUntil". Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  38. ^ agency, Paramore, the digital. "Nick Cave: Feat. - Frist Center for the Visual Arts". Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  39. ^ "Nick Cave - Jack Shainman Gallery". Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  40. ^ "Tryon Fine Arts Center". Tryon Fine Arts Center. Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  41. ^ "Fashion Design". School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  42. ^ "Fashion Design". School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  43. ^ Nelson Atkins
  44. ^ "Nick Cave - Jack Shainman Gallery". Retrieved 2017-03-11.

External links[edit]