Soundsuit artist switches up, opens new exhibit at Mass MoCA

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Nick Cave’s “Until” is Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art’s largest exhibit to date. “Until” features three distinct sections including a floating crystal landscape.

NORTH ADAMS – Nick Cave, an artist famously known for his explosively colorful, wearable sculptures called Soundsuits, has a new exhibit at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Stepping down some stairs into Mass MoCA’s largest exhibit space, the viewer is visually assaulted by Cave’s “Until.” Twirlers and spinners and beads and colors and reflections attack the eye, but are ultimately attention grabbing and welcoming – much like a tapestry.

Jodi Joseph, Mass MoCA’s director of communications, described Cave’s exhibit as a “dazzling landscape” and “the largest exhibit Mass MoCA has ever pulled off.”

According to Joseph, Cave’s work at Mass MoCA is the result of a request from the museum’s curator three years ago.

“Until” showcases three distinctly different areas, with a live performance between two of them.

The first is a field of hanging spinners, which includes more than 10,000 individual spinners and 700 motorized lines. The field of spinners took approximately three weeks to complete, Joseph said.

The second is a “cloudscape,” as Joseph described it, a modular sculpture that took nearly two years on and off to complete. The cloudscape sits prominently in the middle of the exhibit space and consists of glowing chandelier crystals underneath a raised, intricately detailed platform, accessible only through four opposite ladders.

The third is a “shoelace mountainscape,” Joseph said, inspired by graffiti spotted on Cave’s departure from New York City. The mountainscape is a vibrant, three-dimensional mural that took almost a year and half to build, and features a pseudo-cave system that ends in a video-splattered room.

Between the cloudscape and the mountainscape stood Brenda Wimberly, a Shreveport, Louisiana native. A vocalist since 11 years old, Wimberly belted out notes that seemed almost religious, notes that drew exhibit goers in.

“I’m the vocalist,” Wimberly said between performances. “I’m the part of it that’s emotions. I evoke what this is about.”

For Cave, “Until” is a 180-degree turn away from his previous work in the sense that it does not involve a single Soundsuit. Cave’s previous work with Soundsuits has included live performance and videography, where his static sculptures come alive as they are worn.

But switching it up, in a big way, was just a logical progression.

“Why did I change? Why not – you’ve always got to change, it’s part of life,” Cave said in an interview during the Oct. 15 opening.

According to Cave, though, parts of his previous work are still alive and well in “Until.”

“I’ve kept things, though. The essence – I’m transferring the essence,” Cave said.

But Cave has also kept his message. His first Soundsuit, which was constructed using twigs, was a visual response to the Rodney King police beating. “Until,” according to Joseph, is an exploration into the contemporary political atmosphere in America: Mass MoCA’s website cites the deaths of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin as Cave’s source of inspiration.

“It is asking us to think about racial issues in general,” Joseph said, describing the exhibit. “But when you look closer, it’s a bit of a punch in the gut.”

Some of the details Joseph was describing include spinners that are in the shape of handguns.

Cave’s favorite part of his work, though, was the people that gathered for it. In the same humanitarian vein that Cave worked in during the Rodney King outrage, Cave looked to the crowd that showed up for “Until” as a piece within itself.

“Look at the congregation of people,” he said. “Look around, it’s so diverse here.”

This story first ran in the Berkshire Courier.

 

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