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Nick Cave

Nick Cave American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist

American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist
Countries United States of America
Occupations Musician Artist Fashion designer Sound artist Sculptor Costume designer
Type Arts Fashion Music
Gender male
Birth 1959 (Fulton)
Residence Chicago
Education Kansas City Art Institute, Cranbrook Educational Community, Cranbrook Academy of Art
The details

Nick Cave (born February 4, 1959 in Fulton, Missouri, United States) is an American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist. He is best known for his Soundsuits: wearable fabric sculptures that are bright, whimsical, and other-worldly. He also trained as a dancer with Alvin Ailey. He resides in Chicago and is director of the graduate fashion program at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Early life and education

Nick Cave was raised in central Missouri, by a single mother. He is the youngest of seven boys, and the family was of modest means. Cave attributes his interest in found objects and assemblage to his childhood circumstances.

Cave learned to sew in the fiber department of the Kansas City Art Institute, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1982. He began studying dance through an Alvin Ailey program, both in Kansas City and New York City. He also did some graduate coursework at North Texas State University. Cave earned a master's degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1989.

After moving to Chicago, Cave became the chair of the Department of Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute in 1990.

Nick Cave used performing arts, text tile arts and literary arts.


Soundsuits are sculptural costumes enveloping the wearer's body in materials including dyed human hair, sisal, plastic buttons, beads, wire, sequins, and feathers. In using everyday objects, Cave can create an atmosphere of familiarity while rearranging them into interpretive representations of both social and material culture. As race, identity, and gender are generally accepted to form the axis of his work, Cave's soundsuits can telegraph many concepts simultaneously. Their meaning can therefore change based on their environment, movement, fixed state, and/or the inclusion of group choreography. The finished pieces bear some resemblance to African ceremonial costumes and masks. The suits also reference carnival costumes, Dogon costumes, Rococo, and ball culture.

He used costumes that were fluffy, in 2016 Nick Cave done a show that includes soundsuits.

Cave's first soundsuit was created in 1992, as a reaction to the beating of Rodney King. Cave collected a large number of sticks and twigs from the ground and fashioned them into a suit that made sound when worn. His suits are most often presented for public viewing as static sculptures, but also through live performance, video, and photographs. Bringing his interactive creations to life, "Cave regularly performs in the sculptures himself, dancing either before the public or for the camera, activating their full potential as costume, musical instrument, and living icon." Cave has produced over 500 soundsuits, since the creation of his first in 1992.

Mixed media

Cave's work outside of his soundsuits is predominantly mixed media sculptures and large-scale installations. Maintaining his signature style utilizing found objects and brightly colored fabrics, Cave creates sculptural art that discusses current racial tensions, especially gun violence and its impact on Black men. One such piece that speaks directly to this is TM 13, a sculpture that responds to the life and 2012 death of Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin's murder on July 13, 2013; hence the title "TM 13". By no means the first Black man to be shot due to racial profiling, Martin's case gained national attention and became ingrained in the cultural discourse very quickly. Cave, looking to address this tragedy, created a powerful sculpture centering around a hoodie, denim pants, a Black mannequin, and sneakers. The sculpture is conspicuously covered in a net, "creat[ing] a kind of Soundsuit for the ghost of Trayvon Martin. A way for a dead black teenager to make an outcry and an uproar, to protest against his undeserved demise".

Cave's mixed media sculptures often include black doll or mannequin parts (heads, hands, etc) placed at the center or top of a piece, creating an altar-like semblance. By focusing his pieces in this manner, viewers of his art can "examine the history of trauma and racism, ... the objectification of the black male". His 2014 exhibition "Rescue" "inspects the idea of servitude and the accompanying stigma within the Black community". Most of these works are not audible, like his 2016–2017 exhibition 'Until' at MASS MoCa, as Cave wants the exhibition participants "to be included — and implicated — in the work" as opposed to focusing on sound and movement. The act of viewing his works with participants seeing each other at the same time is a metaconcept Cave actively promotes.


Cave is represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery.

Solo exhibitions / projects:

  • 2017 - "Feat." - Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee
  • 2016 - "Until" - MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
  • 2015 - "Here Hear" - Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
  • 2014 - "Rescue" - Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York
  • 2014 - "Made by Whites for Whites" - Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York
  • 2014 - "Currents 109" - Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri
  • 2014 - "Nick Cave" - The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2013 - "Sojourns" - Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado
  • 2013 - "FreePort [No. 006]" - Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
  • 2013 - "The World is My Skin" - Trapholt, Kolding, Denmark
  • 2013 - "Heard" - Grand Central Station, New York
  • 2012 - "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" - Boise Art Museum, Boise, Idaho
  • 2012 - "Let's C" - The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia
  • 2011 - "For Now" - Mary Boone Gallery, New York City, New York
  • 2011 - "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" - Seattle Art Museum, Washington
  • 2010 - "Soundsuits" - Studio la Città, Verona, Italy
  • 2010 - "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" - UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California
  • 2010 - "Pattern ID", featuring Soundsuits - Akron Art Museum, Akron, Ohio
  • 2009 - "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California
  • 2009 - "Nick Cave: Recent Soundsuits" - Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York
  • 2008 - "Alter-Skins" - Fosdick-Nelson Gallery, Alfred, New York
  • 2008 - "Nick Cave: Soundsuits" - Society for Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2008 - De Young Museum San Francisco
  • 2007 - "Second Skins: Sculptural Soundsuits and Tondos" - Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Florida
  • 2006 - "Soundsuits" - Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, Illinois
  • 2006 - Jack Shainman Gallery, New York City, New York
  • 2006 - Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2005 - "Soundsuits", Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2004 - "Soundsuits", Holter Museum of Art, Helena, Montana
  • 2003 - Hand Workshop Art Center, Richmond, Virginia
  • 2002 - Macalester College of Art, Saint Paul, Minnesota
  • 2002 - Wright Museum of Art, Beloit, Wisconsin
  • 2002 - The Sybaris Gallery, Royal Oak, Michigan
  • 2001 - "Nick Cave: New Works" - Xavier University Art Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • 2001 - "Amalgamations", Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania
  • 2001 - "Nick Cave: Objects of Desire" - Noel Gallery, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • 2001 - Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • 2000 - "Nick Cave 2000" - Duane Reed Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
  • 1999 - "Nick Cave: New Works" - Zone One Gallery, Asheville, North Carolina
  • 1999 - "Reparations" - South Bend Museum of Art, South Bend, Indiana
  • 1998 - "Nick Cave: Performance and Exhibition" - Jack Olson Gallery, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, Illinois
  • 1997 - "Nick Cave: New Works" - Grand Arts, Kansas City, Missouri

Selected collections

  • Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Nelson Atkins Kansas City, Missouri
  • The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina

Permanent collections

  • Birmingham Museum of Art
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
  • Detroit Institute of Arts
  • High Museum of Art
  • de Young Museum
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • Montclair Art Museum
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Norton Museum of Art
  • Orlando Museum of Art
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Smithsonian Institution

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