Nick Cave (born February 4, 1959, in Fulton, Missouri, United States) is an American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist. Cave's family was large in size and always supportive of his artistic interests. He claims his upbringing gave him an artistic attentiveness to found objects and assemblages. Cave started his artistic journey by manipulating fabrics from older sibling's hand-me-downs. After he graduated from Hickman High School in 1977, he enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute where he finished a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1982. 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. His later sculptures focused on color theory, mixed media, and large-scale installations. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois, and is director of the graduate fashion program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He still continues to work on Soundsuits as well as works completed as a sculptor, dancer, and performance artist. 
Early life and education
Nick Cave was raised in Fulton, Missouri, alongside seven brothers by a single mother who encouraged Cave's interest in fashion. His grandparents owned a farm in Chariton, Missouri, where Cave would sometimes help care for crops and chickens. Cave attributes much of his interests in found objects and assemblage to his childhood circumstances. Graduating from Hickman High School in 1977, he enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute, where he would study fiber arts and later earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1982. In 1979, Cave met Alvin Ailey and spent that summer and several summers thereafter in New York, where he studied with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1982, 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.
In 1988, Cave earned his M.F.A. degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He also did some graduate coursework at North Texas State University. After graduating from Cranbrook Academy of Art, he would go on to teach a fiber arts program at the Art Institute of Chicago as of 1989. Also since then, Cave has run a clothing company in Chicago where he designs, manufactures, and markets his own line of men's & women's clothing.
Creative thought and process
Cave's low socio-economic status growing up forced him to repair hand-me-downs from older siblings; this is where he began developing skills in manipulating fabrics. He created his first Soundsuit through the utilization of these skills. Up until then, his work had nothing to do with the figure or performance art. He explained that he made a sudden shift that would redefine the work he was making.
Influences of African art traditions, armor, ceremonial dress, couture fashion, and designed textiles, as well as stereotypically feminine objects, are present in his work to express a multitude of concepts. Much of his work is in the round, but occasionally he enjoys the dimension created when working with bas-relief, referring to them as paintings. His work deals with strategies to negotiate the real-life stakes of vulnerability and consequence by transforming the experience and environment. With his performance art, he aims to create situations where diverse communities come together to share the experience, making sure to distinguish his pieces as art rather than costumes. Cave describes himself not as an artist but as a messenger as his work frequently deals with spectacle and responsibility. One such work of his that follows this principle is Augment. This piece consists of five assemblages made with over 1000 inflatable lawn decorations that are sewn together. The sculptures were on display in the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston’s South End from August 8, 2019, to September 13, 2019. On September 14, the piece was taken to the streets in the form of a parade with the mission to spread joy through the South End and Upham's Corner neighborhoods in Boston. More than 75 Boston-area artists and performers and 500 members of the public participated in this parade to bridge the gap between the two neighborhoods. At its final location at 555 Columbia Avenue in Upham's corner, the piece spills out through the windows of a custom-designed building wrapped in collages made by members of the Upham's Corner community.
Cave creates most of his pieces in a workshop with several assistants, fabricators, and suppliers, his head assistant being Jen Grygiel. He most often commissions fabrication from a shop in Skokie, Illinois called "Iron and Wire" owned by David Greene.
Soundsuits are sculptural costumes enveloping the wearer's body in materials including but not limited to 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. As race, identity, and gender are generally accepted to form the axis of his work, 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. The finished pieces bear some resemblance to African ceremonial costumes and masks. The suits also reference carnival costumes, Dogon costumes, Rococo, and ball culture.
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, to his surprise, made sounds when worn. His suits are most often presented for public viewing as static sculptures, but they are also observed through live performance, video, and photography. 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." Cave has produced over 500 soundsuits, since the creation of his first in 1992. Cave is very much inspired by dance and choreography which works well with soundsuits because they allow the expression of both arts in one piece. He talks about how he wants his work to be seen without the artist in mind. With the Soundsuits series, you don't know who is inside, you don't know their gender, their race, or anything about their identity.
HEARD•NY - Soundsuit Performance
In 2013 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 city's most bustling thoroughfares, Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall. HEARD•NY was not, however, a purely visual spectacle—it was a deftly layered commentary on ceremony (particularly, costumed West African ritual), identity, and the place of dreams in civic life. 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. 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.
Cave's work outside of his soundsuits is predominantly mixed-media sculptures and large-scale installations. 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. One such piece that speaks directly to this is TM 13, a sculpture that responds to the life and 2012 death of Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin's murder on July 13, 2013; hence the title "TM 13". By no means the first Black man to be shot due to racial profiling, Martin's case gained national attention and became ingrained in the cultural discourse very quickly. 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".
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". His 2014 exhibition "Rescue" "inspects the idea of servitude and the accompanying stigma within the Black community". 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" 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.
Solo exhibitions / projects:
- 1997 – Nick Cave: New Works – Grand Arts, Kansas City, Missouri
- 1998 – Nick Cave: Performance and Exhibition – Jack Olson Gallery, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, Illinois
- 1999 – Reparations – South Bend Museum of Art, South Bend, Indiana
- 1999 – Nick Cave: New Works – Zone One Gallery, Asheville, North Carolina
- 2000 – Nick Cave 2000 – Duane Reed Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
- 2001 – Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, Indiana
- 2001 – Nick Cave: Objects of Desire – Noel Gallery, Charlotte, North Carolina
- 2001 – Amalgamations, Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania
- 2001 – Nick Cave: New Works – Xavier University Art Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 2002 – The Sybaris Gallery, Royal Oak, Michigan
- 2002 – Wright Museum of Art, Beloit, Wisconsin
- 2002 – Macalester College of Art, Saint Paul, Minnesota
- 2003 – Hand Workshop Art Center, Richmond, Virginia
- 2004 – Soundsuits, Holter Museum of Art, Helena, Montana
- 2005 – Soundsuits, Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- 2006 – Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- 2006 – Jack Shainman Gallery, New York City, New York
- 2006 – Soundsuits – Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, Illinois
- 2007 – Second Skins: Sculptural Soundsuits and Tondos – Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Florida
- 2008 – De Young Museum San Francisco
- 2008 – Nick Cave: Soundsuits – Society for Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- 2008 – Alter-Skins – Fosdick-Nelson Gallery, Alfred, New York
- 2009 – Nick Cave: Recent Soundsuits – Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York
- 2009 – Meet Me at the Center of the Earth – Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California
- 2010 – Pattern ID, featuring Soundsuits – Akron Art Museum, Akron, Ohio
- 2010 – Meet Me at the Center of the Earth – UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California
- 2010 – Soundsuits – , Verona, Italy
- 2011 – Meet Me at the Center of the Earth – Seattle Art Museum, Washington
- 2011 – For Now – Mary Boone Gallery, New York City, New York
- 2012 – "Let's C" – The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia
- 2012 – Meet Me at the Center of the Earth – Boise Art Museum, Boise, Idaho
- 2013 – Heard – Grand Central Station, New York
- 2013 – The World is My Skin – Trapholt, Kolding, Denmark
- 2013 – FreePort [No. 006] - Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
- 2013 – Sojourns – Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado
- 2014 – Nick Cave – The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts
- 2014 – Rescue – Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York
- 2014 – Made by Whites for Whites – Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York
- 2014 – Currents 109 – Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri
- 2015 – Here Hear – Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
- 2016 – Until – MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
- 2017 – Feat. – Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee
- 2018 – Nick Cave: Rescue, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
- 2018 – Weather or Not, Jack Shainman Gallery
- 2018 – If a Tree Falls, Jack Shainman Gallery
- 2019 — Augment, Boston, Massachusetts,
- 2020 – Until, The Momentary, Bentonville, Arkansas 
- 1989 – School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, Department of Fiber and Material Studies, Full-time
- 1997 – Pillchuck Glass School, Seattle, WashingtonKansas City, Missouri Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, Florida
- 1999 – University of Wisconsin at Madison, Madison, Wisconsin University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Massachusetts Island Press, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri
- 2000 – Tryon Center for the Visual Arts, Charlotte, North Carolina Allentown School for Visual and Performing Arts, Allentown, Pennsylvania University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina University of Manoi-Honolulu, Honolulu, Hawaii
- 2001 – School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, Fashion Department, Tenure Appointment Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, Fashion Department
- 2002 – The Costume Society of America Annual National Symposium “The Future of Dress: Education and Advocacy?” participant in the panel discussion, Chicago Creative Capital Retreat, Lecture, New York
- 2003 – University of Arizona, lecture/workshop Studio tour/lecture, School of the Art Institute Women's Board, Chicago, Illinois Studio tour/lecture, Oakland Art Museum Women's Board, Oakland, California Studio tour/lecture, American Craft Council, New York Studio tour/lecture, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Rapids, Michigan
- 2004 – Museum of Contemporary Art, “Altered Garments”, workshop/lecture, Chicago Holter Museum of Art, Helena, Montana City Association of The Art Institute of Chicago, studio visit/lecture Portland Art Museum Association, studio visit/lecture
- 2005 – Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- 2009 – Fabric Workshop & Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Select permanent collections
- Birmingham Museum of Art
- Brooklyn Museum
- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
- Detroit Institute of Arts
- High Museum of Art
- De Young Museum
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina
- Montclair Art Museum
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
- Museum of Modern Art
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
- Norton Museum of Art
- Orlando Museum of Art
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- Smithsonian Institution
- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
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