Critics’ Picks

Soundsuit, 2006.

Soundsuit, 2006.

New York

Nick Cave

Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street
October 13–November 11, 2006

Brilliantly colored and shimmering with beaded patterns, or sprouting wooden sticks, horns, and sewn protuberances, Nick Cave’s exuberant, looming figures populate the gallery. These “Soundsuit" sculptures are punctuated with huge, decorative mandalas and C-prints of heads in decorated ski masks, suggesting terrorists gone wild. The Chicago-based Cave (not to be confused with the Australian rocker) explores performance, ritual, ceremony, fashion, and African roots. Recycled variously from thrift-store treasures—found knit sweaters, synthetic pussy willows, beads, and masks—and natural detritus like driftwood, dryer lint, twigs, and human hair, the effusive and oneiric “Soundsuits” loom like mythic figures caught and stuffed for an ethnographic display: shamans of the American psyche. Some are meant as costumes for dancers, whose movements generate myriad noises. The hubbub and motion create a lively performance, an ephemeral yet memorial event, much like the ritual African masks and costumes whose spirits they evoke. Sadly, despite their fabulousness, Cave’s “Soundsuits” encounter the same problem as African ceremonial art when displayed as static sculptures in a gallery—they lose their performative punch. But while display without context is a losing endgame for Yoruba Egungun costumes, which signify more than their surfaces reveal, Cave’s charged ensembles operate meaningfully in our culture, visually referencing Bigfoot, the Klan, a morose Democratic Party (a donkey mask atop a furry figure wearing a red, white, and blue tie), disco dancers, and space aliens. Perhaps after the gallery closes, these creatures turn the lights back on and dance in glorious cacophony.