Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Will Celebrate Nick Cave

This article is part of our latest special section on Museums, which focuses on new artists, new audiences and new ways of thinking about exhibitions.


For fans of Nick Cave, Chicago is the place to be this year.

Mr. Cave, the multidimensional artist who was born in Fulton, Mo., but has made Chicago his home for 34 years, will be celebrated at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago with a retrospective; at the DuSable Museum of African American History in the city, with a “performative fashion experience”; and on the Chicago River facade of theMart, where one of his videos will be projected free of charge twice a night.

In his time in Chicago, Mr. Cave has drawn a following for his colorful videos, installations and performances. But his name is most commonly associated with his Soundsuits, which have been described as “wearable, noise-making costumes.”

Now 63, he is as prolific as ever. The Chicago lovefest includes numerous new works, including “Bear and Boy” and “Rescue,” both mixed media, and 15 new Soundsuits.

The retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art includes works that grew out of Mr. Cave’s response to pressing social issues — one hallmark of his art that has contributed to his popularity and made him a highly recognized contemporary artist. His Soundsuits, for instance, were first created in response to the 1991 police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles and were meant “to entertain while they raise questions about race, gender and identity,” Ted Loos wrote in The New York Times in 2016 .

His MCA Chicago retrospective, “Forothermore,” which will run from May 14 through Oct. 2, is designed “as an immersive journey,” according to the museum, beginning with a new iteration of his kinetic “Until” installation, featuring thousands of whirling wind spinners. Mr. Cave said in a recent interview that “Until” “came out of” the 2014 killing of Michael Brown Jr., in Ferguson, Mo. The installation was first displayed at Mass MoCA in 2016 and later traveled to Sydney, Australia.

Also shown will be “Beaded Cliff Wall,” made of millions of pony beads hand-threaded onto shoelaces, displayed against a backdrop of floor-to-ceiling, geometric wallpaper; 26 Soundsuits; and “Time and Again,” an installation that is constructed from various workshop materials and tools similar to those of Mr. Cave’s grandfather, a carpenter who made furniture that has inspired his work, as have quilts and costumes made by his grandmother.

According to MCA, a gallery-sized, 13-channel video installation, “Hy-Dyve,” will surround visitors with “projections of flowing water, blinking eyes and mysterious creatures and patterns.” Recent bronze sculptures of human body parts decorated with flowers, candles and found objects, including used shotgun shells, will also be shown.

Colorful, abstract, round tondos will also be part of the exhibition. In the catalog, the art historian Krista Thompson says they “highlight the recurrent mourning that attends the loss of Black life through the police killings of Black people in the city of Chicago (and beyond it) … The devastating cycle of hurricanes experienced by people from the Bahamas to Louisiana.”

Six pages in the front of the exhibition catalog and six pages in the back are black with gray typeface listing Black, Indigenous and “people of color killed by police between May 25, 2020, and May 25, 2021, a year marked by urgent, national protests against such violence.”

The list begins with the death of George Floyd and ends with that of Darren Dejuan Chandler, who was killed by the police at a hotel in Lenexa, Kan., on May 25, 2021. Preceding the list, a page says, “Rest in Power.”

The exhibition was conceived and curated by Naomi Beckwith, former senior curator at MCA Chicago who is now deputy director and chief curator of the Guggenheim. Writing in the catalog and referring to herself as its editor, Ms. Beckwith says Mr. Cave’s art “is both a sobering recognition of all that has stayed the same as well as a portal through which to instantiate a different, more utopic future.”

His work, she continues, “possesses an altogether unique spirit that emerges not only out of his own biography and artistic training but also from the social realities and structural violence of the United States.”

“His work provides antidotes to the dominant social and historical narratives of our times,” she wrote.

In the interview, Mr. Cave said the title of his retrospective, “Forothermore,” comes from the word “forevermore” and is about “those that we haven’t forgotten, that are in our thoughts and in our imagination. I’ve never thought that my work was for me — I always knew I was just a messenger, always here to deliver these deeds.”

Noting that the retrospective will allow visitors to follow a timeline through his career that he hopes will be “very exuberant, very rich and colorful,” he said he also has tried to “shine a light on the subject of racism. It’s a reflection of that and optimization. Being proactive makes me optimistic.”

Mr. Cave said he wrote in his journal 30 years ago that he was “working toward what I’m leaving behind.”

“I am now seeing reflections of that and so I am grateful,” he said. “I am thrilled, excited to share. It’s an important moment, almost post-Covid, just the sense that we can be together.”

The exhibition, added Ms. Beckwith, “will say one should look under the surface of things and not be afraid of what they find. They should applaud the fact that someone has found a way to make beauty out of darkness.” The show will move to the Guggenheim Museum in New York and run from Nov. 18 through April 10, 2023.

One of Mr. Cave’s new multimedia works, “The Color Is,” will be shown at a May 21 fund-raising gala at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, featuring a performance by Labelle, the 1960s all-female pop group. There will be two more performances at the museum on May 22 and 23 with music by the singer-songwriter Jamila Woods.

MCA describes this work as “a performative fashion experience featuring an 80-look production” by Nick Cave and his brother, Jack, a designer and lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It also calls it “an amalgamation of cultures, times and ideas, emancipating them from the limits of regular classifications.”

And if that’s not enough of Mr. Cave, his new video, “Ba Boom Boom Pa Pop Pop,” will be projected on the facade of theMart, formerly the Merchandise Mart, twice nightly from May 5 to Sept 7.

The video is a remix of Mr. Cave’s 2011 film, “Drive-By.” According to Art on theMart, which projects digital art on theMart, the video will display “brightly colored” Soundsuits dancing across the building’s facade, “transporting the viewer to a kaleidoscopic otherworld on the river’s edge.

“Amidst the flurry of movement,” it says, “a figure adorned with a stop sign emerges, reminding viewers of the underlying sense of urgency despite the jubilant expression of freedom.”

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