Review: Forothermore, a Breathtaking Exhibit of the Beauty and Grief of Nick Cave’s Art, Now at the MCA

Nick Cave’s art is gloriously, spectacularly colorful and joyous. Your first view of the gallery array of Soundsuits is thrilling, even if you have met a Soundsuit before. This army of figures is diverse and visually exciting. But it’s not all just pleasing imagery. Underlying the beauty of the work are themes in which Cave addresses pressing social issues related to race, gender, sexuality and class. His first Soundsuits were created in response to the police beating of Rodney King in 1991. Forothermore traces artistic themes and the artist’s evolving interests over three decades, with works from as early as 1989. 

You can experience this work and more in Forothermore, the new retrospective of Cave’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which continues on display until October 2. It’s the most comprehensive survey of Cave’s work to date. The exhibit is curated by Naomi Beckwith, former Manilow senior curator at MCA Chicago. Beckwith also edited the 300-page digital catalog.

The recognition of Cave’s work continues with ArtEdge: Celebrating Nick Cave, a gala on Saturday, May 21, in the Roundhouse at the DuSable Museum of African American History. The gala will feature a presentation of The Color Is, a “performative fashion experience,” featuring an 80-look production by Nick Cave and Jack Cave. Details below on other showings of The Color Is.

Spinner Forest. Hanging mobiles made from metallic spinning garden ornaments. Installation view, Nick Cave: Forothermore, MCA Chicago. May 14–October 2, 2022. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Forothermore, displayed throughout the fourth floor galleries at the MCA, opens in the fourth floor atrium with Spinner Forest, a display of thousands of colorful whirling wind spinners. 

As we walk through the galleries of Cave’s work, we see rooms of Soundsuits, wall hangings, figures and sculptural objects showing his genius at creating art from found elements and the detritus of life. There are small and large assemblages of heads and hands, a wall of beads threaded on shoelaces, and an immersive video installation. The retrospective shows the incredible range of Cave’s work and how aspects of his life and his views of the world are transformed into his art. 

Forothermore is breathtaking. Breathtakingly beautiful and breathtakingly sad. As the title implies, the exhibit is dedicated to the lives of others.

Soundsuits. Installation view, Nick Cave: Forothermore, MCA Chicago. May 14–October 2, 2022. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

The exhibit’s 300-page digital catalog is dedicated to BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) individuals killed by police between May 25, 2020, and May 25, 2021, with opening and closing pages listing their names. The catalog notes that although the list appears comprehensive, it’s not complete because of the difficulty of obtaining information about lives taken from law enforcement agencies across the country. 

As the catalog intro notes, there are phrases we may use to mean that not much changes and that we say again to mean everything must change. “It goes like this ‘what it is, what it was, and what it shall be.’” Cave’s practice reflects that expression and it’s also a way to see through to a distant and perhaps utopian future. So keep those thoughts in mind as you enjoy Forothermore

Here are some of the highlights of the exhibit.

Twenty-six Soundsuits, including 15 new ones. Soundsuits are somewhere between costume and sculpture. Forothermore features more than a dozen works from Cave’s Soundsuit series in addition to the first showing of his new series, Soundsuits 9:29. The head-to-toe garments are constructed of materials such as beads, pearls, wire, feathers, sequins, synthetic hair, and twigs. 

Cave’s first Soundsuit was created in response to the Rodney King police beating in 1992 and Soundsuits 9:29 addresses today’s heightened social unrest and calls for racial justice after the police murder of George Floyd. One Soundsuit series—Speak Louder—may look familiar because it’s in the permanent MCA collection. It’s made up of six figures, draped in fabric covered in black mother-of-pearl buttons and other materials. 

Nick Cave, Wall Relief, 2013. Mixed media including ceramic birds, metal flowers, afghans, strung beads, crystals and antique gramophone. 4 panels, each: 97 x 74 x 21 in. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Beaded Cliff Wall, a display of millions of pony beads hand-threaded onto shoelaces and shown against a wall-size, floor-to-ceiling backdrop of geometric-designed wallpaper created by Cave and his partner Bob Faust. Also Wall Relief, made up of four panels, shown in image above.

Several massive tondos, circular three-dimensional wall paintings six to eight feet in diameter, may include materials such as found fabrics and synthetic hair. Cave creates the tondos as a metaphor for Black sociality. Some of his recent tondos are designed from bugle beads and sequined fabric. With the swirling colors of the tondos, Cave suggests weather disasters and their effects on Black bodies and Black communities. Krista Thompson’s essay in the catalog is titled “Nick Cave’s Tondos: The Weather and the Force of Bodies Mobilizing En Mas.” 

Hy-Dyve, an immersive 14-channel, room-sized video installation in an adjacent fourth floor gallery, surrounds you with projections of flowing water, blinking eyes and mysterious creatures and patterns.  

Carved and cast pieces. Cave’s recent series of sculptures of carved and cast bronze hands, heads and limbs decorated with flowers, candles and found objects such as used shotgun shells. 

 
Platform, 2018. Mixed media installation including chains of bronze and fiberglass hands, four gramophones, heads, pillow, and carved eagles. Dimensions variable. Tia Collection, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Installation view, Nick Cave: Forothermore, MCA Chicago. May 14–October 2, 2022. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

More Views of Nick Cave Art

The Color Is. In addition to the performance at the gala ArtEdge: Celebrating Nick Cave, there will be two public performances of The Color Is at the DuSable on Sunday, May 22, at 5pm and Monday, May 23, at 7:30pm. Produced by the MCA, The Color Is is an experience based on the concept of freedom from limits and described as a couture-created body of work that is an amalgamation of cultures, times and ideas. 

Rapt on the Mile. You can also see the work of Cave (in collaboration with Bob Faust) on the multistory building at 676 N. Michigan (the former Apple Store location), wrapped in their mural. 

A new Cave video projection is also running now on theMart (formerly the Merchandise Mart), the world’s largest permanent digital art projection. Cave’s projection, entitled Ba Boom Boom Pa Pop Pop, was made specifically for Art on theMART, and features original footage together with remastered content from Cave’s 2011 film Drive-By. You can get a riverside view of the Cave video every night at 9pm through September 7. The best view is on the Chicago Riverwalk between Wells and Lake streets.

Forothermore continues through October 2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave. The museum and sculpture garden are open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm and Tuesday from 10am to 8pm. Admission is free on Tuesdays for Illinois residents. Admission is $12 for adults and $7 for students and seniors. Free admission for children 12 and under, MCA members, and members of the military. For more information, go here or call 312.280.2660.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.