Nick Cave (performance artist)

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Nick Cave

Nick Cave (born February 4, 1959[1] in Fulton, Missouri, United States) is an American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist. 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 resides in Chicago and is director of the graduate fashion program at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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 learned to sew in the fiber department of the Kansas City Art Institute, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1982.[3] He began studying dance through an Alvin Ailey program, both in Kansas City and New York City.[2] He also did some graduate coursework at North Texas State University.[1] Cave earned a master's degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1989.[4]

After moving to Chicago, Cave became the chair of the Department of Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute in 1990.[5]


Soundsuits are sculptural costumes enveloping the wearer's body in materials including dyed human hair, sisal, plastic buttons, beads, wire, sequins, and feathers. In using everyday objects, Cave can create an atmosphere of familiarity while rearranging them 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 sound when worn.[1] His suits are most often presented for public viewing as static sculptures, but also through live performance, video, and photographs.[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.

Mixed media[edit]

Cave's work outside of his soundsuits is predominantly mixed media sculptures and large-scale installations.[11] 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.[12] One such piece that speaks directly to this is TM 13, a sculpture that responds to the life and 2012 death of Trayvon Martin.[13] George Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin's murder on July 13, 2013;[13] hence the title "TM 13". By no means the first Black man to be shot due to racial profiling,[14] Martin's case gained national attention and became ingrained in the cultural discourse very quickly.[15] 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".[16]

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".[17] His 2014 exhibition "Rescue" "inspects the idea of servitude and the accompanying stigma within the Black community".[17] 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"[12] 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.[12]


Cave is represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery.[18]

Solo exhibitions / projects:[8][19]

Selected collections[edit]

Permanent collections[edit]


Further reading[edit]


  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. ^ "KCAI alum Nick Cave to present his Soundsuits for school's 125th anniversary gala Feb. 20". Kansas City Star. January 31, 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Alumni in the News". Cranbrook Academy of Art. Retrieved 2014-05-07. 
  5. ^
  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. ^ "SOFT SCULPTURE SURVEY: NICK CAVE". Portland Garment Factory. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ a b "Trayvon Martin". Biography. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  14. ^ "Black Lives Matter". Wikipedia. 2017-03-11. 
  15. ^ "Shooting of Trayvon Martin". Wikipedia. 2017-03-11. 
  16. ^ "On Encountering Indifferent Objects - ∞ mile Detroit". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  17. ^ a b "Artist Nick Cave Puts Racism on Display". GOOD Magazine. 2014-09-17. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  18. ^ Jack Shainman Gallery. "Artists". Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  19. ^ "Faculty: Nick Cave". School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 
  20. ^ agency, Paramore, the digital. "Nick Cave: Feat. - Frist Center for the Visual Arts". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  21. ^ "Nick CaveUntil". Retrieved 2017-01-28. 
  22. ^ "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. 
  23. ^ "NICK CAVE, RESCUE, September 4 - October 11, 2014". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  24. ^ "Nick Cave - Made for Whites". 
  25. ^ "Currents 109: Nick Cave". Saint Louis Art Museum. 
  26. ^ "Nick Cave". The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA. 
  27. ^ "Nick Cave: Sojourn". Denver Art Museum. 
  28. ^ "FreePort [No. 006]: Nick Cave". Peabody Essex Museum. 
  29. ^ "Nick Cave - The World is My Skin" (in Danish). Trapholt. 
  30. ^ "Events at Grand Central Terminal :: Nick Cave: Heard•NY :: Mar 25, 2013". Retrieved March 25, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Nick Cave: Let's C". The Fabric Workshop and Museum. 
  32. ^ "Nick Cave: For Now". Mary Boone Gallery. 
  33. ^ "Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth". Seattle Art Museum. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  34. ^ Lightfoot, Judy (March 11, 2011). "S.A.M.'s exhibit of Nick Cave 'soundsuits': a smiling, sumptuous journey". Crosscut. Retrieved August 20, 2011. 
  35. ^ 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. 
  36. ^ Isã, Claudine (April 6, 2009). "The Soundsuits of Nick Cave: Contemporary Art or Material Culture?". Bad at Sports. 
  37. ^ Baker, Kenneth (April 21, 2009). "Nick Cave's 'Soundsuits' made from detritus". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  38. ^ Nelson Atkins
  39. ^ "Nick Cave - Jack Shainman Gallery". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 

External links[edit]