The art world often can be too esoteric, too insular, too out there to capture the attention of any sizable swath of the public.
But that’s no such problem for Nick Cave. Beginning this summer, the Chicago artist was the subject of a sprawling, months-long exhibit centered at the Cranbrook Art Museum. The “Here Hear” presentation did everything we might expect of the arts. It was aesthetically dazzling. It was provocative. It was thoughtful. It had big, even confrontational, ideas in mind.
But it wasn’t protected behind a glass case, or adorned with DO NOT TOUCH signs. In fact, it was more like a joyful embrace. And gosh darn if Detroit didn’t embrace it right back.
Largely composed of Cave’s trademark Soundsuits – outsized, dramatic costumes built of a wide array of materials, from twigs to ostentatious fabrics – the Cranbrook installation was a mesmerizing sight, and worthy of celebration and contemplation on its own.
But what really made “Here Hear” sing (literally and figuratively) was the series of immersive experiences presented throughout the exhibit’s stay. Community outreach activities have become de rigueur with major art exhibits, but rarely, if ever, are they pulled off with the intensity, zeal – and public reciprocity – as they were here. You couldn’t miss it, and you wouldn’t have wanted to, either.
It kicked off with an all-day event in the Brightmoor neighborhood that drew art scenesters, neighborhood folks, families to the grotto-like environs of the Artist Village for multiple performances, including Soundsuit-clad dancers who milled among the crowds like the hippest, bentest (and tallest) “Sesame Street” characters you could imagine.
There were also notable public events – so-called invasions – at the Dequindre Cut, the Detroit riverfront, MOCAD and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and an exhilarating closing celebration at the Masonic Temple. Where didn’t this dance party show up?
As outwardly joyful as the Soundsuits can seem, it shouldn’t be forgotten that their creator is prodding us toward discussions of complex, difficult ideas: race, identity, disguise, geography, community, to name a few. And actually, it’s very unlikely the deeper currents will be brushed aside anytime soon. No element of something this memorable could be.
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