Internationally acclaimed, Chicago-based artist Nick Cave is having a moment. An incredible, full-circle, “booked and busy” moment.
The multidimensional artist, perhaps best known for his Soundsuits, currently has an original Art on the MART projection being shown nightly along the Chicago River, a forthcoming “performative fashion experience” at the DuSable Museum gala later this month, and most imminently, a definitive retrospective called Forothermore opening at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday, May 14.
The New York Times in a recent profile called Chicago “the place to be for Nick Cave fans” this year.
But unlike many artists before a major museum opening, he’s not anxiety-ridden. The benefit of time, wisdom and experience have led him to a surprising calmness and deep humility for this season of appreciation of his life and work.
“I feel the love in the most incredible way. I made it a point with this project to have my work done—completely done—so that I could allow myself permission to be in the process, in this moment, to receive the joy,” said Cave in a recent interview. “I feel the love and I embrace it in a way that I have never before. I’m very, very excited about how the work will be received and how it will serve.”
Cave, 63, remembers when he wasn’t a “media darling,” and when his work — with early inspiration from the brutal caught-on-video police beating of Rodney King — was sometimes misunderstood. Conversely, Cave said, he was emboldened by the early support of individuals, organizations & institutions that did “get it,” and supported and invested in his work. The 2006 Joyce Award Winner (whose work graces the Joyce Foundation’s 15th floor offices) says that support was pivotal to advancing his career and boosting confidence in his mission and work.
When somebody recognizes you and gives you the means to continue and to move your practice forward, the only thing that you can do is give back, and, hopefully, to exceed what we had originally set out to do,” he said. “Just to be recognized, to be seen and considered is really an amazing feeling. That never gets old.”
Cave said the way philanthropy has broadened its commitment to artist development and created space for more recognition and support through programs like the Joyce Awards has made a difference. Created in 2003, the Joyce Awards remains the only regional program dedicated to supporting artists of color in Great Lakes cities.
“They’re doing more than just writing a check. They’re paying attention to the work the artists are creating. I’m an artist who works within the civic landscape. My work is very much about outreach, inclusion, and collaboration,” Cave said. “I think the organizations are now really looking at artists that are part of looking at civic responsibility within their practice.”
“They’re not only providing support but investing in the artist’s works themselves, much like The Joyce has with my work,” he said. “It becomes a full circle moment. We are a family in a sense. A cultural family. I’m very humbled to be seen and supported in this sort of incredible way.”
Regarding the MCA retrospective Forothermore, Cave said he was most excited about and interested in how it will be received, particularly as 30 years have now passed since the Rodney King incident inspired his first Soundsuit.
“When that incident happened, I thought I was consciously awake. It did something to me internally. It put me on the path that my work would lie in the space of civic responsibility. You know how you can be on a path but then you really get aligned with your mission and you know why you’re here?” Cave said. “I think this show is about my commitment to bringing light to the subject of racism.”
Highlights of the exhibition include never-before-seen works, including a continuation of the popular Soundsuits series and premiering a new one, Soundsuits 9:29, along with a site-specific installation, Spinner Forest, comprised of thousands of kinetic spinners that will hang in MCA’s two-story atrium and fourth-floor lobby.
“When I looked at the process as we were putting the show together, the word light just kept coming into my space. I realized that I have been trying to bring light to the subject of racism, and inequality and injustice. When that all became clear, I just became calm,” he said.
Cave said he didn’t necessarily think that three decades after Rodney King that he would still be creating work that is influenced by incidents of racial violence but that the “heaviness” of that part of the work is also balanced by the presence of celebration, power and joy that exists within Black communities, even amidst the sorrow of untimely death.
“As one travels through the show there are all these markers. And all these markers are these incidents that have shifted and caused me to respond to this ongoing violence against Black people,” Cave said. “I was starting to think about the National Anthem and as I was reading it I was thinking about the line ‘land of the free home of the brave.’ I was thinking about what that meant. And as I think about it—when one is violated we all are violated. For me that’s really what this moment is about.”
He continued: “But it’s ultimately about humanity and optimism. I’ve always used beauty and color and pattern as ways to adorn and to embellish because that’s how I was raised. I was raised knowing that I was authentic and beautiful, and talented, and yet told that while you may encounter racism you do not ever let that hinder your development. We’re in a society where things are programmed and designed to keep us in this space of trauma. And yes that trauma is real and it exists. But you also have purpose and you are valuable.”
Finally, despite what feels like a very busy and meaningful valedictory moment, Cave said his work is far from done.
"I’m a messenger first. This is just my most current assignment. Forothermore will do what it needs to do. It will allow us to reflect, it will allow us to find common ground, it will allow us to have these difficult conversations. It will unite us. And it will bring us joy and optimism and hope in a time where we need that." Nick Cave
About The Joyce Foundation
Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.