Object of the Week: Soundsuit

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and to celebrate, we are featuring a work created by queer artist Nick Cave, now on view at SAM. SAM’s collection includes many queer artists: from Marsden Hartley, Mickalene Thomas, and Francis Bacon to Paul Cadmus, Nan Goldin, and Catherine Opie. It is important to SAM that we acknowledge and discuss all artists’ identities as part of the conversations we have about their work. While not all of the queer artists in our collection were out during their careers, and not all created works biographically address queerness, sexuality or gender identity, the visibility of queer artists is an important counter to decades of erasure and exclusion, especially for BIPOC LGBTQIA+ artists. Being seen and being yourself is what coming out day is all about, and Nick Cave’s work represents this beautifully.

Cave began making his Soundsuits after seeing the video of Rodney King, a Black man, brutally beaten by police in 1991. He started by collecting sticks in a local park and stitched them together to create a suit that, when worn, allowed him to completely disappear. Once inside, the suit hid his Blackness, his gender, and other facets of his identity to give way to other modes of being that protected him from the outside world and, in many ways, gave him the freedom to move about and perform.

The Soundsuit by Cave in SAM’s collection represents many elements inherent to the process of realizing one’s sexuality, gender identity, and coming out: artifice, performance, and reinvention.

Let’s tackle these elements one at a time.

Artifice: Cave’s Soundsuits are works of art, but they also draw comparisons to costumes. The wearer/performer disappears in them, and, when worn, they create a completely different appearance from that of the person inside. Queer people have always created identities and personas—for adapting to the restrictions of straight spaces, expressing creativity, or for survival in an otherwise intolerant world. Aiding in the wearer’s transformation and disappearance from view, Cave’s Soundsuits are the ultimate type of protective artifice.

Performance: We queer people just cannot stop performing. Be it on Broadway, Drag Race, in Folk music, ballet or video games, there are queer people everywhere in the arts. We love to disappear into worlds of fantasy, to be the centers of attention, to express our ideas about the world, and to do it loudly and without reservation. The Soundsuits are performance objects that demand attention—they are colorful, loud (literally and figuratively), visually arresting, and they tower over and expand well beyond the average size of a person. When worn, they take up space with their presence and are unabashedly on display.

Reinvention: Cave takes ordinary objects—his studio space is basically a flea market of toys, shells, fake fur, and whatever else he finds out in the world—and turns them into Soundsuits that are part sculpture, part percussion instrument, and part costume. This idea of reinvention is a key component of the coming out experience that many queer people experience. The newness of coming into one’s own identity provides an opportunity to take the essence of oneself and re-introduce it to the world in a brand new, inherently strong, and freer form—much like the Soundsuits, whose raffia strands, knitted sleeves, and beads are reborn as a moving and living work of art.

It is for these reasons that I thought Cave’s work was a sound choice (see what I did there?) for SAM’s Object of the Week. But I also chose it because it is an artwork—like each of the dozens of Soundsuits that Cave has made—that evokes joy, much like that of LGBTQIA+ culture. Cave’s suits are alive with celebration, especially when they’re worn by dancers and you experience the full effect of their materials, colors, movement, and the ways they evoke wonder. I hope for anyone coming out, that ultimately it is a process that not only transforms your life but also brings you joy. 

Jason Porter, Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement

Image: Soundsuit, 2006, Nick Cave, Human hair, fabricated fencing mask, sweaters, beads, metal wire, Height: approximately 6 ft., on mannequin, Gift of Vascovitz Family, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.70 © Nick Cave.

Lessons from the Institute of Empathy

Empathy—the ability to understand the experience and feelings of others—is a skill that many in the modern world struggle to accurately express. This increasingly common deficiency is known as Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD).

Enter Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. This immersive exhibition occupying the fourth floor of Seattle Art Museum functions to help visitors awaken their own empathy. Anchored by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk’s ChimaTek: Virtual Chimeric Space, the exhibition invites you to step outside your normal, routine self and practice your ability to understand others by observing empathic works from our African art collection.

To better understand how Lessons from the Institute of Empathy encourages viewers to practice empathy, hear from Aurelia Wallace, a representative from the Institute. In her 10-minute talk, Wallace walks viewers through the lessons of each work on view. From Jacolby Satterwhite’s colorful animations honoring his late mother and Nick Cave’s avant-garde garments created in response to the murder of Rodney King to gold rings inspired by proverbs from the Ashanti Kingdom and the activism in skirts worn by Ndebele women in South Africa, this video offers the first step in elevating your own empathic capabilities.

Practice exercising empathy by visiting Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum and see the artworks discussed in this video.

Photo: Nathaniel Willson

Muse/News: Art from Home, Making space, and the John Waters Closet

SAM News

Two months after reopening the downtown museum, all SAM locations are once again closed until further notice. While our doors are closed, we invite you to stay home with SAM as we present live virtual events and engaging content on SAM Blog, including Muse/News.

From bilingual culture-loving site Ici Seattle, notre amis offer this review of City of Tomorrow, currently closed again but waiting for you when SAM reopens.

“More than anything this exhibition shows a highly intelligent woman with a strong love and curiosity for art and artists who chose to share this love with the city of Seattle. An exhibition not to be missed.”

Local News

The Stranger’s Rich Smith on the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s second digital premiere and how they’re “embracing the camera.”

And Seattle Opera held an online premiere for their production of Donizetti’s “The Elixir Love.” Thomas May reviews for the Seattle Times. 

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel on the launch of the Cultural Space Agency, a new public development authority (PDA) linking the cultural sector, city government, developers, and donors to “create, purchase, manage and lease property for arts and cultural spaces.” This is the PDA created by the City of Seattle since 1985, to develop the downtown Seattle Art Museum.

“‘The public development authority brings the power of government, the nimbleness of the independent sector and the partnership opportunities of social impact investment all to bear on the same problem,” [Matthew] Richter says.”

Inter/National News

Hilarie M. Sheets for the New York Times on the appointment of Klaudio Rodriguez as director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts; he joins a “growing group” of Latinx art museum directors across the country—including SAM’s director and CEO, Amada Cruz.

Artnet’s Taylor Defoe on a dispute in upstate New York over a mural created by artist Nick Cave for the façade of Jack Shainman outpost The School. Saying “TRUTH BE TOLD” in 25-foot-high black vinyl letters, the mural does not please the village’s mayor, who contends that it is merely a sign and in violation of a local code.

Filmmaker and artist John Waters will give 375 artworks to his hometown Baltimore Museum of Art; his collection includes works by Diane Arbus, Lee Lozano, Christian Marclay, Cindy Sherman, and more. As part of the gift, Waters asked that their restrooms be named in his honor.

“They thought I was kidding and I said, ‘No, I’m serious.’ It’s in the spirit of the artwork I collect, which has a sense of humor and is confrontational and minimalist and which makes people crazy…I have a lot of art that would work in a bathroom.”

And Finally

“A memorial to bad artistic impulses.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle at Seattle Art Museum, 2020, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: A Peacock party, a garment reborn, and a muse named Cardi B.

SAM News

Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India opens to the public this Thursday! The Seattle Times highlighted the free community opening celebration, which will include live performances, an art market, music, and art making.

SAM’s Día de los Muertos Community Night Out on Friday, October 26, is featured as one of “6 free Seattle area events to celebrate” the annual holiday.

Seattle Bride Magazine on the “art of love,” highlighting SAM among its recommendations for the best local museums to host a wedding.

Local News

City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel shares the news that Cornish has awarded its 2018 Neddy Artist Awards to Lakshmi Muirhead (painting) and Timea Tihanyi (open media).

Poet Natalie Diaz was awarded a 2018 MacArthur genius grant; The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig wrote about her recent reading at Hugo House, which in part touched on the legacy of Edward S. Curtis.

Tamiko Nimura for Crosscut on Tacoma artist Anida Yoeu Ali, whose sequined “Red Chador” that appeared across the world was recently lost. The artist is mourning the garment as a death—and planning its rebirth.

“Because the work was disrupted she has to come back,” she says, “but in solidarity with other issues that are going on.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic’s Zachary Small on the Met’s announcement of next year’s gala exhibition: Camp: Notes on Fashion, a “complete 180-degree turn toward sacrilegious” following last year’s Catholic-themed Heavenly Bodies.

Artnet’s Eileen Kinsella on the long overdue retrospective of Charles White, who inspired notable artists as both an artist and a teacher. Kinsella asks, “why did it take so many so long to learn about him?”

The Studio Museum and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts have announced the gift of over 650 works of art from the collection of Peggy Cooper Cafritz, including works by Kerry James Marshall, Theaster Gates, and Nick Cave.

“Tia Powell Harris, the chief executive of the school, said, ‘It’s as if we will now have direct access to Peggy’s amazing vision, seeing the world’s possibilities as she did.’”

And Finally

Went from makin’ tuna sandwiches to Mickalene’s muse.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Shiva and Parvati in Conversation; Shiva on His Vimana (Aircraft) with Himalaya, Folio 53 from the Shiva Rahasya, 1827, Jodhpur, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 16 1/2 × 45 5/8 in., Mehrangarh Museum Trust, photo: Neil Greentree.

Object of the Week: Soundsuit

In this special edition of Object of the Week, the three Empathics who have taken up residence at SAM in the installation Lessons from the Institute of Empathy share their thoughts on Nick Cave’s Soundsuit. The Empathics are part of ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk. They have surrounded themselves with works from our African art collection and are asking questions and sharing information about the art as a way to help visitors awaken their own empathy.

EMPATHIC LESSON: CONSIDER THE CHIMERIC

Nick Cave’s suits mix anatomical features in a perplexing way. Are they human or not? This question is being asked in science as human and nonhuman species can be merged to create new forms of life, known as chimeras. Does this combination show disrespect for human dignity or is it a step toward progress? The Empathics wonder what the potential of crossing species might be.

Using hair collected from barber shops in Chicago is a strategic move that Nick Cave explains: “The hair creates an animal sensibility. You know it’s hair, but you don’t know where it comes from. It’s seductive, but also a bit scary. Animals have so much to teach us. I hope that by merging animal parts with human parts in these Soundsuits, I force people to pay attention to what they are doing to our earth and the animals living here with us. I’m having fun and using whimsical circus imagery to ask people to consider the underlying tragedy we are perpetrating. We have to find ways to live with each other, extend our compassion to other communities and take care of our natural resources.”

Nick Cave goes on to share the history of his Soundsuits, two of which are on view. “My first Soundsuit was made out of twigs. The initial concept came from the Rodney King incident and the Los Angeles riots in 1992; as I was reading about the riots, I was thinking about the feeling that I was dealing with as a black male, feeling smaller, devalued, invalid . . . the incident was larger than life: six policemen bringing Mr. King down. . . . I was in the park one day, sitting, thinking about everything around the riot, and then I looked on the ground and found a twig. I created a sculpture from twigs. . . . When I put it on and started to move in it, I realized that it made a sound and I began to think a lot about protest, that in order to protest you have to be heard, and in order to be heard you have to be aggressive.”

– The Empathics, The Institute of Empathy

Images: Soundsuit, 2006, Nick Cave, fabricated fencing mask, human hair, sweaters, beads, and metal wire, approx. 6 feet tall, on mannequin, Gift of the Vascovitz Family in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.70 © Nick Cave. Installation view of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Natali Wiseman.

 

Masks in the Bullitt Library’s Collection

The Seattle Art Museum’s current exhibition, Disguise, examines 21st-century evolutions of the African mask and explores contemporary forms of disguise. For this latest book installation from the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library, we drew upon unique works in our Special Collections related to masks. They run the gamut between the restraint of an early 20th-century collection catalogue and the intensity of an early 21st-century work that delights the senses.

Masks Alone

les_arts_sauvages1

Portier, André and François Poncetton. Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique. Paris: Editions Albert Morancé, 1956. SPCOL OSZ NB 1080 P6.

Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique is a large folio edition that focuses its attention on the form of each mask, leaving context to our imagination. It was first published in Paris in 1927, and is authored by the French academics, André Portier (French, 1886–1969) and François Poncetton (French, 1875 or 1877–1950). It includes fifty loose-leaf collotype photographic plates printed in sepia, some overprinted with color. An elaborate, beautifully produced collection catalogue, this work displays the collections of important artists, critics, and writers of the French Surrealist and Dada movements.

Two examples of the overprinted color plates are on currently on view: Masque Pongwé (Gabon), from the collection of Stéphen-Charles Chauvet, (French, 1885-1950), known for his authorship of the first illustrated compendium on Easter Island; and Masque Man (Côte d’Ivoire), from the collection of Paul Éluard, (French, 1895-1952), the French surrealist poet.

Soundsuits in a Box

nick_cave1

From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

“The wearers and their masks participate in a consuming spectacle: sounds, smells, the audience and the setting all play essential roles.” —Herman Burssens, African Faces: An Homage to the African Mask

Unlike the quiet, reflective nature of Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique, this artist’s book by Nick Cave (American, 1961–) has movement, makes noise, and shows us masks represented in a totally different way from that of more traditional books.

From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

This Boxfolio is a rare, wonderful, instance of an artist leaving a remnant behind after a show. In 2011, artist Nick Cave held a solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum and this work ultimately ended up in the Bullitt Library. Best described as an artist’s book, this work contains a diverse and fascinating assortment: an iron-on patch, lenticular image, magnet, pin, blow-up punching bag, set of playing cards, set of postcards, hanging ornament, booklet, fiber optic wand, and a Viewmaster. Cave’s Soundsuit Shop tells us that “Nick’s 2006 exhibitions were accompanied by this Boxfolio which, like the Soundsuit, is a collection of unexpected items that make sound when shaken.”

Two of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits are on view in the exhibition, Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, which runs through September 7, 2015.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

The book installation, Masks in the Bullitt Library’s Collection, is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum, during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm. (Please note the library will be closed July 1-3, 2015.)

Win Tickets to the June 3 SAM Remix

How would you describe this Nick Cave Soundsuit in 140 characters or less? Tweet your response to @iheartsam with the hashtag #SAMRemix, and you could win two tickets to the June 3 Remix and the opportunity to guest tweet for SAM at the event. The deadline for entries is 5 pm on Thursday, June 2.

Photo credit: James Prinz

Surprises and Delights

The man was in a hurry. He had his cell phone pressed to his ear and appeared to be having a very serious conversation. As he listened intently to the other person on the line, he opened the door to exit the office building.

The man came to an abrupt stop and blinked in amazement. Then a huge smile spread across his face.

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Free Admission on International Museum Day

On Wednesday, May 18, we will participate in International Museum Day, an incredible world-wide day of free admission to museums sponsored by the International Council of Museums. This day is an occasion to raise awareness on how important museums are in the development of society. From America to Oceania; including Africa, Europe and Asia; this international event has grown in popularity. In recent years, International Museum Day has experienced its highest involvement with almost 30,000 museums participating in more than 100 countries.

Admission will be free all day Wednesday at the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Both museums will be open from 10 am – 5pm. This is a great opportunity to see Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth or Modern Elegance: The Art of Meiji Japan.

Click here for more visitor information, including directions and parking details.

Art Attack! A Night Out for Teens, by Teens

Check out an epic ART ATTACK: Teen Night Out! Enjoy live music and tours led by our Teen Advisory Group  and local artists in the galleries. This event is FREE for all high school-aged students. Please bring state or high school ID.

LIVE PEFORMANCES

6–9 pm
DJ Hollywood
from KUBE heats up the turntables all night long.
Brotman Forum

6:30 pm & 7 pm
Garfield Drumline
kicks off Teen Night Out at Hammering Man (6:30 pm) and South Hall (7 pm).
Hammering Man (1st Ave. and University St) and South Hall

7:45 pm & 9 pm
Vicious Puppies
performs two breakdancing sets in South Hall (7:45 pm) and the Forum (9 pm)!
South Hall and Brotman Forum

8 pm & 9 pm
Spectrum Dance Academy
 gives Soundsuit performances in South Hall (8 pm) and the Forum (9 pm)!
South Hall and Brotman Forum

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Make Your Own Flag for March to the Center of the Earth: Community Night Out

I can’t wait to see the wearable art that people are creating for March to the Center of the Earth: Community Night Out on May 5. The evening will kick off with a fantastic parade that starts at the Hammering Man at 5:30 p.m.

If you want a quick and easy way to make something special for Community Night Out, click here now to download instructions and pattern for a DIY flag.

Or come to SAM’s Chase Open Studio at 4:30 p.m. (an hour before the parade begins) to whip up some wearable art of your own. It’s free!

Make Wearable Art at SAM’s Chase Open Studio

Of course you’re coming to March to the Center of the Earth: Community Night Out on May 5.

The question is: Are you prepared to look FABULOUS?

This evening stop by the Chase Open Studio 5:45-8:45 pm to create your wearable art for Community Night Out. We have TONS of things that would give your look some F-L-A-R-E including fabric, sequins, feathers and more.

If you can’t make it tonight, the Open Studio will be available at 4:30 pm on May 5 an hour before the March to the Center of the Earth parade begins.

For inspiration, check out these photos from a recent SAM Creates workshop with artist Mandy Greer.

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Want to Win Remix Tickets? Bring Your Social Network to SAM on May 5!

The SAM special exhibition Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth has arrived in Seattle in a very big way. Have you been dazzled by how Cave transforms ordinary objects into extraordinary art (or want to be)? Well, come to SAM Downtown on May 5 from 5:30 – 9 pm for a terrific celebration: March to the Center of the Earth: Community Night Out.

Bring your students, friends, parents, kids, neighbors, fellow artists and crafters—there will be something there for everyone! Plus, you could win these fabulous prizes:

  • 2 tickets to the June 3 SAM Remix
  • 4 tickets to the Nick Cave exhibition
  • 1 gift bag from the pop-up SoundSuitShop at SAM

How to enter:

  • Get a group of 5 (or more) people together and attend March to the Center of the Earth: Community Night Out on May 5.
  • Take a photo of your group at the event.
  • Post the photo on SAM’s Facebook wall, and be sure to tag everyone in the picture.

All photo entries are due May 9 by 5 pm.

Videos from Family Festival: Earth Day for Kids at Olympic Sculpture Park

Family Festival: Earth Day for Kids was an amazing day of activities in celebration of Earth Day at the Olympic Sculpture Park!  Everyone enjoyed making green art and fantastic live performances celebrating sustainability. Plus, dancers from Cornish College of the Arts brought Nick Cave’s Soundsuits to life! Thanks again to Target for making this event–and other family-friendly events that are focused on art–possible! Here are two fun videos from the event.

Join SAM May 5 for March to the Center of the Earth: Community Night Out

Create it, and parade it! Get your masquerade on during SAM’s special evening celebration, March to the Center of the Earth: Community Night Out. Bring a crafty costume or come early to SAM and create your own wearable art in the Chase Open Studio.

Community Night Out kicks off with a 5:30 pm procession that starts at Hammering Man at SAM Downtown, winds down 1st Avenue and returns to the museum for a night of free live performances, drop-in art making, tours and an onsite Soundsuit performance. That night is First Thursday so admission to SAM and the Nick Cave exhibition is FREE.

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