Reminders of Reincarnation

Nick Cave's New Work

Nick Cave, Speak Louder, 2011. Mixed media. James Prinz Photography, Chicago. Courtesy of Nick Cave and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.  Nick Cave, Sojourn, 2012. Mixed media. James Prinz Photography, Chicago. Courtesy of Nick Cave and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.  Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2008. Mixed media. James Prinz Photography, Chicago. Courtesy of Nick Cave and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2009. Mixed media. James Prinz Photography, Chicago. Courtesy of Nick Cave and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. When Africans dance in a traditional way, they are not just expressing the beat.  With his Heard NY performance in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011. Mixed media. James Prinz Photography, Chicago. Courtesy of Nick Cave and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.  Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011. Mixed media. James Prinz Photography, Chicago. Courtesy of Nick Cave and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2008. Mixed media. James Prinz Photography, Chicago. Courtesy of Nick Cave and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Nick Cave, 2012. Photo by Jeff Wells; courtesy Denver Art Museum. in March 2013 and his exhibition at the Denver Art Museum (June 9-September 22, 2013)  Nick Cave reminds us of the powerful motives of Africans who danced  the mask.   Masking is a way of obliterating personal identity so that the dancer can unite with powerful ones who have returned to the eternal source.  The motions of the dance, moreover, are re-enactments of the moves of these ancestors who represent the ideals of the community.  Replicating the ancient moves removes the dancers from their place in time and infuses them with the timeless grace, wisdom, supremacy and control of the most noble ancestors and the eternal source. It's an act of "tacit reincarnation," says art historian Robert Farris Thompson.   

As African spiritual technologies encounter the onslaught of contemporary Western technologies on the continent, the increasing recognition of Nick Cave’s work will be a way of preserving our knowledge of these powerful, ancient practices.

The Denver Art Museum has organized Nick Cave: Sojourn, a new body of work by the artist.  Taking visitors on a journey through the artist’s imagination, the exhibition will feature approximately 40 new artworks including more than 20 new Soundsuits.  Cave’s multi-sensory, immersive installation will transport visitors to a magical world of color, texture, sound and movement.


Sojourn represents a significant departure in Nick Cave’s career, introducing monumentally scaled work that will offer visitors an immersive experience and new narratives in Cave’s oeuvre,” said William Morrow, Polly and Mark Addison Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the museum.  “Cave in his usual fashion breaks down barriers, preconceptions of beauty and takes us on a sensory journey of self-reflection and exploration.”

New works include a sculpture made of an adorned baptismal font and a monumental passageway constructed of thousands of buttons that serve as both the entrance to the exhibition and the beginning of the journey.  Next visitors will experience about 10 large-scale, 3-D sculptural objects made out of found objects including a 16-foot tondo.  Taking a new direction, Cave has removed the human figure from his sculptures and focused his work on abstract and animal forms.  The next gallery space allows guests to explore more than 20 new Soundsuits.  Finally, the exhibition will close with four new short films.  The DAM is producing a substantial catalogue on the new work featured within this exhibition.

A collaborative live performance is also planned.  Cave held an open call for the general public on February 22, as part of the museum’s final Friday Untitled #54 (Turf) event.  Cave asked interested participants to bring their rhythm and spirit to the audition for a chance to participate in a Soundsuit performance.  Cave then chose 15 people to join in the performance on June 28, as part of the final Friday Untitled #58 (Getup) event at the museum.  The performance will involve local dance groups, musicians and DJs.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits are mesmerizing hybrids of art, sculpture and dance,” explained Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM.  “We’re excited to involve the general public and local dance and music groups for a large-scale performance at the DAM.  Cave’s performances ignite conversations about issues like identity, community and creativity and the DAM is a perfect platform for such discussions.”

Cave grew up in a large family in Columbia, Mo., and credits his single mother for encouraging his creativity.  The artist studied sculpture and fiber at the Kansas City Art Institute and also studied with the famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, known for its contemporary choreography.  The artist obtained a master’s degree at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, and is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago teaching fashion and garment design in the graduate program.  He is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.

Described as textiles-meet-modern dance, Cave’s colorful, larger than-life sculptures have been displayed in museums and worn by Cave and other professional dancers as part of performances.  The Soundsuits consist of a wide variety of materials and are designed to make noise as the wearer moves.  Cave’s first Soundsuit happened in response to the 1992 Rodney King beating—he intended to create a sculpture using found twigs and once complete realized he could wear it.  When he put it on, the rustling twigs created an audible kinetic dimension that resulted in the now-famed series of Soundsuit sculptures.  The twig suit was the first of many Soundsuits crafted from non-traditional materials including fabric, human hair, buttons and feathers.