Nick Cave, who currently holds a position of a director of the graduate fashion program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is an American sculptor, performance artist and dancer. He is best known for his Sound Suits – a series of colorful, large scale, intricately beaded mixed media sculptures based on human form. If a tree falls, his new show that opened on November 1 at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, is comprised of twelve installations and sculptures constructed primarily from wooden Federal style furniture such as tables and chairs, carved wooden African heads, wooden American Eagles, embroidered table napkins, mass produced handkerchiefs, bullet casing, beaded flowers, found religious ceramic sculpture, metal flowers, ribbons, magnifying glass, and bronze casts of parts of the artist’s own body.
WHO: Nick Cave
WHAT: If a Tree Falls
WHERE: Jack Shainman Gallery
WHEN: November 1 (Open until December 22, 2018)
American Federal style furniture was produced mainly from 1789 to 1823 – a period of the most contentious political turmoil in the American history of slavery. We know without being told that this is likely the furniture we might find in many colonial households. In the show, a cotton handkerchief becomes a symbol loaded with emotional and historical significance – its presence alludes to cotton production and slave trade to which the industry owes its existence. It simultaneously evokes grief and gentility, craft and mass-production. Carved wooden African heads import not only ancient history of African carving, but also the trade in stolen artifacts but, more horrifyingly, the trade in stolen people. These heads, however, do not come from antiquity, they are works of contemporary art and their individuality suggests something more nuanced about identity and collective psyche within an oppressed race. This is a story told from within a particular history rather than from an abstract external vantage point.
There is something very painterly about the way in which Cave’s most recent series of sculpture and installation functions. A collection of symbols and connotations, gathered to form an aggregate, creates a symbolic language, similar to that of paintings – a symbolic assemblage left open to a viewer’s interpretation. The beauty of Cave’s work lies is its ability to bring us to the same place, however different interpretive path we might take to arrive there. The inescapable tropes that are conjured from this collection of objects speak to the present moment when country grapples anew with violence, anger, grief, and the strictures of the pervasive power paradigms as they relate to Black America.