Nick Cave: Art Guided By History in the MCA's Retrospective

Nick Cave. Photo: Sandro


Nick Cave’s highly anticipated retrospective, Forothermore, is a much-needed respite, a shared space to both celebrate and grieve as we emerge from the isolation of the past two years. Opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) in May, the exhibition presents an in-depth view of Cave’s multidisciplinary works and still-expanding influence. The artist, designer, educator, and mentor to many in the Chicago community will not only be honored, in typical showstopping style, in the galleries at the MCA but at locations across the city, including: Art on theMart, the DuSable Museum of African American History, 679 North Michigan Avenue, and the Garfield Green Line CTA station, demonstrating how Cave never does just one thing. Highlights of the MCA’s exhibition include Spinner Forest, an immersive installation comprised of thousands of kinetic spinners and Beaded Cliff Wall, made of millions of colorful pony beads threaded by hand onto shoelaces.

Cave, born in Fulton, Mississippi, received his B.F.A. from Kansas City Art Institute. He is known for his transportive performances and iconic Soundsuits, which he originally made in response to Los Angeles Police department officers brutally attacking Rodney King in 1992. 30 years later, Cave continues to make Soundsuits both as a form of self-expression and reflection of society. His work has evolved to include videos, bronze sculptures, and large-scale, immersive installations. Along with his day-to-day work as an artist and as a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in 2018 Cave, with his partner Bob Faust, co-founded Facility, a 20,000 square foot multidisciplinary art space in Old Irving Park in Chicago. Through Facility, Cave and Faust were able to provide support for students and artists throughout the pandemic when many other organizations and institutions shut down.


Nick Cave, Wall Relief, 2013. Mixed media including ceramic birds, metal flowers, afghans, strung beads, crystals and antique gramophone. 4 panels, each: 97 x 74 x 21 in. ©NickCave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.




CGN: What was your experience as a graduate student at Cranbrook Academy of Art like?

Nick Cave: Amazing! I mean to be surrounded by [Eero] Saarinen’s architecture and to be part of an institution so focused around the arts and crafts was fueling. But it was the balance between Cranbrook and Detroit at the end of the day. I needed both to really make it work for me.


CGN: How has teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago influenced your art practice?

NC: I don’t know that it influences my practice as much as it provides a way for me to give back, as well as stay connected and current being surrounded by the students. I like to be around young, creative minds.


CGN: It was so generous for Facility to host the 2020 SAIC master’s graduates in Fashion, Body, and Garment thesis exhibitions. Please tell me about your relationships with your students and what it meant to be able to give them that space during such a tumultuous time?

NC: My relationships with my students are really important, because they’re the next generation of artists, creators and designers. I’m curious to see what they do with themselves and how their careers are designed and shaped. But you know to be able to host them here at Facility was really just the right thing to do. Bob Faust and I have the space and the desire to use it this way. 


.Nick Cave, Untitled, 2018. Mixed media including a table, a carved eagle and 119 various carved heads. 48 1/4 x 120 x 45 1/4 in. ©NickCave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


CGN: What do you see for the future of Facility? 

NC: The future Facility is just as it is today. To facilitate whatever is needing attention at the moment. A place where we can act immediately with passion and purpose and without waiting for approvals or grants or permission for that matter. 


CGN: What significance do rabbits or bunnies play in your work? 

NC: It stems from our Easters as kids on my grandparents’ farm. You know, with seven brothers, we would all get our own live bunnies each year that would then live on the farm. It was such a joyous time, exuberant and really sort of epic.


CGN: How did you decide to incorporate cast bronze elements in your work? 

NC: Bringing cast bronze elements into my work was my way of preparing myself for my first bronze sculpture. It was really me learning and getting a solid understanding of how I could utilize the medium in my own way.


CGN: How has your relationship with the Soundsuits changed since you first created them after Rodney King’s beating? 

NC: Soundsuits 2.0 are a more extreme version of the original, in terms of the materiality and couture making, but they are also sort of shrouded in a black netting that darkens the light dramatically. What’s going on in the world will dictate the next sort of direction or the shape that they may take...


Nick Cave, Bunny Boy, 2012. Digital transfer file. 14:05 min. ©Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


CGN: Can you tell me about your new installation for the MCA retrospective - Spinner Forest? 

NC: It’s the first piece that you encounter when you come into the exhibition, and it’s a reflection on the state of Chicago and the world. It shines a light on all the senseless gun violence that’s happening right in our own backyards.


CGN: Tell me a bit about what it has been like working with Naomi Beckwith to organize the retrospective? What has your collaboration looked like? 

NC: Working with Naomi around the exhibition has been amazing. Just getting the invitation alone was exciting, and then to collectively come together and really put everything out on the table and distill the show was a very interesting process, too. I am grateful for this opportunity, and it’s been really quite lovely to work with her.


CGN: Your retrospective is not just limited to the galleries at the MCA. Why was it important for you to have collaborations with other organizations like DuSable Museum and Art on the Mart? 

NC: It’s about bridging gaps, building relationships, and making connections. We all need to connect with our neighbors and what’s better than art to do that? Bringing my art into other neighborhoods and into the public realm helps us find commonalities and ultimately to unify.


Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2011. Mixed media including vintage bunny, safety pin craft baskets, hot pads, fabric, metal, and mannequin. 111 x 36 x 36 in. ©Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


Note: this is the cover interview for the Spring/Summer issue of CGN. To receive a print edition and subscribe for the year, click here.


The cover of the Spring/Summer 2022 Issue of CGN features Nick Cave's Wall Relief, 2013. Mixed media including ceramic birds, metal flowers, afghans, strung beads, crystals and antique gramophone. 4 panels, each: 97 x 74 x 21 in.©NickCave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


NICK CAVE: Forothermore

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

May 14–Oct 2, 2022