Nick Cave’s Soundsuits at the Seattle Art Museum

Nick Cave, Soundsuits, Seattle Museum of Art

Beyond the food and other cool places Bobby and I went to in Seattle, I have to say that the best part of the trip for me was finally getting to see the absolutely breathtaking Soundsuits by Nick Cave at SAM. The show is one of those rare art experiences that is just so beautifully overwhelming and new. It definitely reminded me of what would happen if Art In The Streets had a child with MOMA’s Martin Puryear exhibit–but it was raised by the acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The show–and all of its reincarnations–is a moment where art, dance, performance, theater, video, fashion, pop culture, materialism, and multiculturalism collide to create something super new and super modern.

The Soundsuits were something I had been DYING to see since I had first discovered them back in college and had studied Cave’s dance work. I missed them when they were in Los Angeles at UCLA last year and was delighted to discover that they were going to be in Seattle when we were. You bet that we literally went to SAM first (after grabbing a bite at Lowell’s). SAM itself is an intriguing museum, one in which classic and contemporary art literally equal out in floorspace. I also found points in other collections a bit maddening, as you’d have classic art juxtaposed with, for lack of better words, random contemporary pieces that did not make sense nor were they particularly good. Beyond that, when their classic art was on, it was on. When their contemporary and historical work was on, it was super on.

Nick Cave, Soundsuits, Seattle Museum of Art

The Soundsuits exhibit, entitled Meet Me At The Center Of The Earth, was definitely the largest jewel in their crown. It was a show that, unfortunately, does not allow photography but does allow for hours of gawking. Set up like an alien runway show, you wander around strips of lined up Soundsuits in various positions. They don’t move and they don’t waver in the wind as you walk by: they are just there like fossilized humans caught whilst dancing.

The suits themselves are entrancing. They are created from found objects, equally as kitschy as they are Americana as they are pop cultural. I remember one in particular that was a collection of those shitty “The Sak” bags girls were wearing in the early 2000s. The suit was a nod to how many of them had been discarded, a cultural and fashionable piece of information forgotten beneath trends, but recreated as a totally ironic dance uniform, whose sound I imagine to be crinkly like a dried palm frond. Similarly, Cave seemed to have stitched together awfully gaudy 1980s formal dresses, with the sequins and bows, into giant, gorgeous discs. All the suits and discs are completely different and amazing: they are awe inspiring.

Nick Cave, Soundsuits, Seattle Museum of Art

Similarly as awe inspiring were the video projects that are exhibited at the end of the gallery. The large, most captivating one is a fifteen minute or so look at how the suits move. They roll back and forth over each other, forward and backwards in time, to some cool electronic tunes. Word on the street is that Cave directed it himself, which makes the video and him as an artist even more prolific. You will definitely sit and watch the whole thing one or two times. I know that Bobby and I definitely did that. The video above is actually a quick snippet of it.

The other most remarkable thing about this show is how business savvy whoever is marketing Cave is: carved in at the exit of the show is a pop-up gift shop, which I am sure is not attached to every main event show at SAM. Mostly composed of what his online store sells, the pop-up shop is one of the only situations where artwork has successfully crossed over into consumer goods. The temporary tattoos, scarves, leggings, punching bags, cards, and wrapping paper all heavily rival the consumer goods of Yoshimoto Nara, the only other artist whose products merit purchasing.

Meet Me At The Center Of The Earth is one of the most exciting art exhibits I have seen in years, with the exception of Art In The Streets. It’s fun, it’s fresh, and it is very now. If you are in Seattle, go see it if you haven’t! If you aren’t, be on the look out for where the suits will be heading next!!


May 4, 2011