Artist Nick Cave introduces his works for the first time in Canada

A runway concept is being used at an upcoming  Glenbow Museum exhibit that will give visitors a chance to  walk around mannequins and observe a series of “Soundsuits” from a 360-degree perspective.

While artist Nick Cave has been creating wearable art using everyday objects for decades, the exhibit, which opens June 29, will mark the first time Cave’s collections are being displayed in Canada. 

As director of the graduate fashion program at the Art Institute of Chicago, Cave’s fabrics are more than visual appeal; they are also about making noise to be heard.

014 Cave Soundsuit 2011 Jack Shainman GalleryPhoto courtesy Glenbow Museum

The Missouri-born artist stitches together twigs and branches to make embroidered pieces, called soundsuits.  

Motivated by the beating of Rodney King in 1991, he started creating the suits during a series of protests in Los Angeles. He collected a large number of twigs from the ground and fashioned them into a suit.

Glenbow art curator Sarah Todd says his works have an “animated character” to them. They feature  feathers and buttons, which give them an attractive appeal.

“The suits can be protective in a way that obscures your identity,” says Todd. “The suits play with your identity so that race or gender become enveloped by the wearer. They were his response to the King situation going on.”

“The suits can be protective in a way that obscures your identity” – Sarah Todd

Cave has produced nearly 500 of the soundsuits since then. Each one is sewn by hand and adorned with different kinds of materials. The artists intends them to be worn and performs in them – referring to them as alters.

“The soundsuits have multiple lives in a sense,” says Todd. “They are meant to be used, as well as appreciated as a static object.”

013 Cave Soundsuit 2013 7079 JamesPrinzPhotographyPhoto courtesy Glenbow Museum

Cave is also a trained dancer who comes from a big family. He trained with the famous African-American dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Early in his career, he studied with Alvin Ailey himself before going on to graduate from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1972.

Internationally, Cave has held a lot of exhibitions. The National Gallery of Canada acquired one of his pieces for its 2017 Biennial which selects comprehensive work by Canadian artists, making Cave one of the first international features. His interdisciplinary background uses sculpture, installation and performance. 

The Glenbow exhibit will run until Sept. 22.

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