Nick Cave in New York

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday August 3, 2022

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits—those larger-than-life kinetic wearable sculptures—are so furred, feathered and tinseled that viewers want to get up and dance. Colorful and festive to look at, they have been translated into a 360-plus-foot-long mural in glass mosaic plus video. Now the largest mosaic in the NYC transit system, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, they occupy the long tunnel that joins the Bryant Park and the Times Square Stations.  

“Times Square is one of the busiest, most diverse and fabulously kinetic places on the planet,” said Nick Cave. “For this project I took the aboveground color, movement, and crosspollination of humanity, bundled it into a powerful and compact energy mass that is taken underground and delivered throughout the station and passage. ‘Every One’ places the viewer within a performance, directly connecting them with the Soundsuits as part of an inclusive community of difference.” 


Cave, a Chicago-based artist, is best known for these Soundsuits, wearable sculpture which camouflage the body within, creating a second skin to conceal race, gender and class, both freeing the wearer and forcing the viewer to look without judgment. With references to African ceremonial costumes and masks, armor, ballroom culture, and Carnival, Cave’s elaborate armatures offer protection and freedom when worn. Constructed from everyday objects and found materials such as colored hair, crocheted doilies, buttons, beads, fabric, raffia, twigs, toys and trinkets, the sounds produced by the suits when worn give the artworks their name.  


The Soundsuits offer such a joyous interactive experience that it’s hard to remember that the work grew out of Cave’s response to the brutal beating of Rodney King by LA police in 1971. The title of the MTA installation, Each One, Every One, Equal All is a reminder of their origin. In a recent interview with Artsy, Cave said that growing up as a queer Black man during the 1960s, he encountered trauma innumerable times, but only became truly aware of it after Rodney King. “That woke my consciousness,” he said. “That’s when I became an artist with a civic responsibility and began looking at my work as a social practice.” Photo above courtesy MTA Arts & Design


Envisioned by MTAs Arts & Design during the Pandemic as a joyous way to welcome riders back into the subway, the installation’s recent opening marks a big moment in Nick Cave’s 30 years of making the Soundsuits: the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, recently opened “Nick Cave: Forothermore,” his first career retrospective, which continues until October, then will travel to the Guggenheim in New York, where it will on open on November 18th. Also in NYC, three of Cave’s earlier Soundsuits are on view at the Museum of Arts and Design’s Garmenting exhibition until August 14th.

Photos © @peggy.roalf unless noted