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NICK CAVE: Double Vision

It’s been two years since Nick Cave’s last solo exhibition in New York City. For his triumphant return, the artist presents simultaneous shows in two of the city’s most esteemed art galleries: the Jack Shainman Gallery and Mary Boone Gallery‚ both in Chelsea. While Jack Shainman is Cave’s primary dealer, the dual exhibitions are the result of a one-off collaboration between the two art venues. And the shows, which mark Cave’s second coming of sorts, are entitled “Ever-After” and “For Now”, respectively.

Words: Dexter Wimberly
Images: Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery

I could say that I simply visited Nick Cave‘s two exhibitions, but it would be more accurate of me to say that his exhibitions consumed me. Both shows opened within three days of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, a week that also marked the official beginning of New York’s fall art season and the start of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. In a city that loves to over-stimulate, it was fitting that Cave’s artwork would be the first I’d see this season (and I have visited both of his exhibits on multiple occasions). A presentation of Cave’s Soundsuits, ie wearable sculptural forms based on the scale of the artist’s body, would be the highlight at any runway show. Yet Cave’s work stands up to the most rigorous definition of high art. His work is evolved in concept and meticulous in execution, while it also possesses a magnetic attraction and broad appeal.

Cave has said that he produced the first example of a Soundsuit while thinking about the Rodney King beating that took place in Los Angeles in 1991. This startling evidence of police brutality was caught on videotape and seen by the world. Cave collected various twigs from a Chicago park, drilled holes in them and threaded them together to create a sculpture of a man; he then climbed inside of the sculpture. Concealing race, gender and class, Cave’s Soundsuits camouflage the body, masking and creating a second skin that force the viewer to look without judgment.

Nick Cave, an African American, was born in Missouri in 1959. He is a sculptor, dancer and performance artist, who trained under the tutelage of Alvin Ailey. Now in Chicago, Cave was the one-time director of the graduate Fashion program at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

His first show, Ever-After, on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, is the more imposing and monochromatic of the two. Of the two exhibitions, this is the most fitting to see first. Here the artist’s palette is cold, sterile and cleansing. They reflect the artist’s assertion that Ever-After is about death, mortality and remembrance of loved ones lost.

The second show, For Now , on view at Mary Boone Gallery, is like a West Indian Carnival, a riot of color, Mardi Gras in a box. It is aptly described as an open playground. You literally walk into a frozen frame of Soundsuits caught in the act of freely interacting, without rules. It is a celebratory release of color, chaos, and exuberance. These circus acts and volatile vignettes are candy for the eyes and the mind.

For those with a casual relationship to contemporary art, it is often the high prices and auction sale headlines that serve as the indicator of an artist’s importance. Indeed, Nick Cave is experiencing his share of commercial success (his Soundsuits are currently priced between $85,000 – $125,000). However, the bigger story, and what’s most exciting to me as an art lover, is how he activates both gallery spaces, breathing new life into sterile and otherwise banal environments to create lasting drama.

To think, just a few years ago I was unfamiliar with Nick Cave’s work. After these two exhibitions, I will never forget it.

* Nick Cave’s exhibition, Ever-After is on view Sept 8 – Oct 8, 2011 at Jack Shainman Gallery (513 West 20th Street, NYC) www.jackshainman.com. Nick Cave’s, For Now is on view Sept 10 –Oct 22, 2011 at Mary Boone Gallery (513 West 20th Street, NYC) www.maryboonegallery.com.

Images courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery.

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