When the Cranbrook Art Museum asked to host his inaugural solo outing in Michigan, the artist and dancer — and Cranbrook Academy of Art alum — Nick Cave agreed, on one condition: “I said, I will only do it if I can do work in Detroit.” For the uninitiated, the school’s campus sits about 20 miles away from the downtown area, Cave’s first lesson upon his arrival in the late ’80s. “Girl, thank God for the city,” he says. “I got here and I was the sole black person, so Detroit saved my life. I became connected to this circle of creative people.” He recalls a fearlessness to the way they came together and fed off of one another. “I don’t know if I could have done Cranbrook without Detroit,” he avers. “That’s why this is so important; I’m reconnecting with the city that really allowed me to create a balance in my higher education.”
Cave’s seven-month-long project, “Here Hear,” began in April — he, clad in his famed Soundsuits, popped up at Motor City landmarks like the Fisher Building, Eastern Market and the Brightmoor neighborhood — and continues at Cranbrook with the installation of 30 or so Soundsuits and a series of newly commissioned pieces. “On the surface, the work is really bright, visceral, maybe seductive, but it’s very dark underneath,” says the artist, whose original Soundsuit served as his response to the Rodney King beating. “I just finished a piece that’s called the ‘TM13’ — ‘TM’ for Trayvon Martin — so here we go full circle.” He also mentions the button-covered and bull’s-eye-faced number that he brought to Brightmoor: “If I wear it, I can see through it, but you’d never think I was exposed to the outside, and that’s kind of how I operate in the world — with a filter, and yet, I’m a target.”
He has more reassuring things to say about his former turf. “Detroit’s always been on the cusp of falling apart and rebuilding itself, but as of today, I’m feeling the same urgency and the same energy that I felt back in the ’80s,” Cave explains. “There’s a level of awareness, and a lot of creative people are staying in Detroit and rebuilding its cultural relevancy.”
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