Critics’ Picks

View of “Nick Cave,” 2009.

New York

Nick Cave

Jack Shainman Gallery | West 20th Street
513 West 20th Street
January 8 - February 7

Stepping into Nick Cave’s second solo exhibition at this gallery is a bewitching experience, akin to visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute while hallucinating. Cave has converted the main space into a strange showroom that displays almost two dozen mannequins outfitted with sequins, buttons, and elaborate embroidery that make them look like alien priests, psychedelic Sasquatches, or hybrid harlequins.

Called “Soundsuits” because of the clatter the original prototype––a costume adorned with vast bundles of sticks––made while worn in an early performance, Cave’s subsequent suits were embellished and displayed as fine art; those in the 2005 “Frequency” exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem were robelike and endowed with outsize headgear resembling face-obscuring pope miters or KKK hoods sans eyeholes. Similar adaptations appear in this show: Some are made from shaggy, fluorescent fleece that evoke Jim Drain’s sculptures, while others resemble works by Yinka Shonibare tailored from African printed cloth. Other entirely novel outfits, with hefty headdresses resplendent with ceramic flowers and birds, are also on display. Despite the weight of the suits and their tendency to obscure identity completely, the mannequins’ poses (a cocked hip, one foot in front of the other) suggest movement, which only enhances the works’ vivacity.

In the front room, Cave departs from his signature suits and presents five assemblages that are more confrontational yet equally tactile feats of physical balance. In these sculptures, blackface lawn jockeys (the kind commonly found on Deep South porches in the 1800s) hold up constellations of objects: One supports a network of ceramic birds, another holds several sailing ships, and another presents a hand-woven rug. These subversive monuments provoke open-ended, historically informed narratives and further attest to Cave’s alchemical ability to turn material into expression.