Nick Cave describes himself as an ‘artist, educator and messenger’. For more than 20 years, he has used sculpture, installation, performance, video and sound to create spaces of memorial, from collecting found objects to express the impact of gun violence in the United States, to fashioning fantastical Soundsuits, first made in response to the 1991 police beating of Rodney King, which conceal the wearer’s shape and identity as a comment on notions of race, gender and class.
It has been a busy year for Cave, even by his prolific standards. In May, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago unveiled his first career-spanning survey. The exhibition, which travels to the Guggenheim in New York in November, not only features unseen additions to the Soundsuits series, but also rarely seen early works. Its title, ‘Forothermore’, is a neologism that honours those living their lives as ‘other’, and reflects Cave’s deep commitment to creating space for the marginalised, particularly working class communities and queer people of colour.
Cave has consistently pushed the boundaries of what constitutes art and where it can be exhibited. Also in May, the artist revealed two monumental mosaics in Manhattan, at the 42nd Street connector between the Times Square and Bryant Park subway stations. Commissioned by MTA Arts and Design, the mosaics Each One and Equal All depict different visual themes in Cave’s Soundsuits series. Along with a 2021 mosaic titled Every One, they span 4,600 sq ft, forming Cave’s largest permanent public artwork to date.
‘It’s all been in the works for about two and a half years,’ says Cave. ‘It’s not just bringing your work to the museum. The studio work had to be completed a month in advance so that I could be fully available for this immersive moment.’ He adds, ‘Unfortunately, we’re in this non-stop state of turmoil and trauma right now. I’m just excited that there is this place that we can go to reflect and mourn, to find some sort of calm.’
A collaboration with Knoll Textiles
Ahead of the opening of ‘Forothermore’ at the Guggenheim, the artist will unveil a comprehensive collaboration with Knoll Textiles – the company’s first partnership with an artist. Consisting of four upholsteries, three draperies and three wallcoverings, the vibrant textile collection conveys Cave’s sense of dimension, colour and movement, with each design referencing a specific artwork and dutifully capturing the visceral and tactile essence of the original piece.
‘When I was invited to do this collaboration, I immediately thought of Cranbrook [Academy of Art], where I did my graduate work,’ recalls Cave. ‘I was surrounded by Knoll and by [Eliel and Eero] Saarinen. I would pull out these amazing textiles created in the 1970s, and think about the Arts and Crafts movement and its influence. It’s part of my DNA now. I’m always thinking about the transition: how does an artwork transition into a textile or bronze? It comes down to the essence, and transferring that essence over.’
Created in deep dialogue with Cave and his creative and life partner, Bob Faust, the Knoll Textiles collection is an achievement in many ways. The collaboration kicked off in February 2021, when Cave selected 45 works for the Knoll Textiles team to riff on; they ultimately whittled these down to ten ambitious designs that take the artist collaboration trope to a whole new level. As expected, the draperies in the collection are the most delicate. ‘Until’, an airy, web-like textile made by embroidering on a water-soluble ground that dissolves to leave an open-weave structure, is based on an installation of the same name, while ‘Buttons’ nods to one of Cave’s Soundsuits, meticulously hand-beaded in buttons to achieve an ombré effect. The photorealist design was created by compositing multiple buttons together into a seamless, continuous pattern. In both cases, the results are subtle, yet dynamic and enticing.
‘Nick always uses conventional materials in unconventional ways,’ says Knoll Textiles designer Nina Chidichimo, who shepherded the collection into being with senior designer Mee Ok Ryu. ‘Working with him really pushed us in terms of how we typically create things. He really wanted it to feel organic and open, so we had a lot of conversations with mills that we normally wouldn’t, to make something extra special. There was a lot of trust too, as he gave us his body of work to run with. It was a great collaboration.’
The final drapery, ‘Heard’, is inspired by a fringed iteration of Cave’s Soundsuits. ‘We brought Nick a tiny sample of this and he automatically gravitated to it, because there’s such a direct correlation between this and his work,’ Chidichimo says of the drapery. ‘Each ribbon is individually sewn by hand in rows, so it also speaks to his handcrafted approach. The Soundsuits are not just objects, but meant to be moved in and worn.’
The collection’s upholsteries are just as adventurous. ‘Guise’ mixes knitted, space-dyed twisted yarns with chenille yarns, echoing the intricate top layer of Cave’s beaded Soundsuits with a dynamic, puckered effect. Drawing from a section of the installation Architectural Forest (2011), ‘Vert’ is a variegated design that distils the perfectly imperfect qualities so often seen in Cave’s work. Even more flexible is ‘Puff’, a cosy faux shearling available in 13 colours based on a rainbow fur Soundsuit. The final upholstery fabric, ‘Doily’, uses two upholstery techniques in varying scales on a woven ground to create a multidimensional effect. ‘The way in which these textiles and fabrics are built, nothing is flat,’ says Cave. ‘There is a dimension built within them that is visceral. I’ve always built cloth and so I wanted the same sensation to come across in these materials.’
The wallcoverings include ‘Wire’, a digitally printed fur pattern using matte ink on metallic mylar; ‘Forest’, a vertically charged warp lay that’s also inspired by Architectural Forest and probably the most joyful; and ‘Big Floral’, which recreates a pattern of antique beaded flowers from a Soundsuit on a larger scale. Available in their original bright hues as well as grayscale tones, the wallcoverings are tactile and exquisitely produced.
Aside from their aesthetic value, the textiles convey a deep and powerful significance in their intention to represent original works that advance social justice. ‘It’s all part of being a collective,’ Cave summarises. ‘We’re here, we exist. We’re human. For me, [how I stay hopeful is by] striving for something, it’s about being purposeful. We all have to think about accountability and what it means in the larger picture. That is hope.’
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Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.
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