Truth and Healing in Art

Not only do you get to feast on the art with your eyes, if you’re lucky, you get to wear it! Psychiatrist and media personality Jeremy Spiegel calls Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, featured on the cover of ArtHealing, “Eye Candy for the Soul.” Spiegel, who is a frequent co-host of The Positive Mind on New York City’s WBAI – 99.5 FM, features on Taboo and Hardcore Hobbies, both National Geographic Channel programs.

A Tang Museum installation of 3 of Cave’s Soundsuits

Even when they’re still, the Soundsuits are amazingly evocative. I was lucky enough to see one at Skidmore College’s Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY. I stood in front of it, circled it, came back to it, ever vigilant for the moving soul that I was sure inhabited it to emerge. Cave is a Tang regular and featured in a March 11 2021 Zoom lecture you can see on their website.

Same as Zambian Chilyano Lwando, Cave finds himself intrigued by random, often wild, images and explores his identity through his art. In this video for the Cranbook Museum, he explains his eclecticism and his inspirations.

According the Tang Museum’s website, “Nick Cave (b. 1959, Fulton, MO) lives and works in Chicago, IL) is an artist, educator and foremost a messenger, working between the visual and performing arts through a wide range of mediums including sculpture, installation, video, sound and performance. Cave is well known for his Soundsuits, sculptural forms based on the scale of his body, initially created in direct response to the police beating of Rodney King in 1991, as Cave explains in this 2018 YouTube video. Soundsuits camouflage the body, masking and creating a second skin that conceals race, gender and class, forcing the viewer to look without judgment. They serve as a visual embodiment of social justice that represent both brutality and empowerment.

“Throughout his practice, Cave has created spaces of memorial through combining found historical objects with contemporary dialogues on gun violence and death, underscoring the anxiety of severe trauma brought on by catastrophic loss. The figure remains central as Cave casts his own body in bronze, an extension of the performative work so critical to his oeuvre. Cave reminds us, however, that while there may be despair, there remains space for hope and renewal. From dismembered body parts stem delicate metal flowers, affirming the potential of new growth. Cave encourages a profound and compassionate analysis of violence and its effects as the path towards an ultimate metamorphosis. While Cave’s works are rooted in our current societal moment, when progress on issues of global warming, racism and gun violence (both at the hands of citizens and law enforcement) seem maddeningly stalled, he asks how we may reposition ourselves to recognize the issues, come together on a global scale, instigate change, and ultimately, heal.”

But Cave’s 2020 memorial to truth covering Jack Shaiman’s The School gallery in Kinderhook, New York proved to be too much for the local populace in the heat of the elections. Taylor Dafoe covered for ArtNet News last November:

“The mayor of a small town in upstate New York is ordering the removal of a large, publicly visible artwork about speaking truth to political lies. The words “TRUTH BE TOLD” currently cover the 160-foot-long facade of The School, an outpost of the New York gallerist Jack Shainman in the village of Kinderhook. Written out in black vinyl letters over 25 feet tall, they constitute a new site-specific installation by artist Nick Cave and designer Bob Faust, mounted ahead of the election.  “The statement is a pointed antidote to a presidency known for propaganda that disguises truth and history to present racist and nativist ideology as patriotism,” reads the description of the work on Shainman’s website. “It is also open-ended, intended to spark questions surrounding personal interpretations of truth and integrity.”

“But the artwork, which went up October 31 as part of the gallery’s “States of Being” art and social justice initiative, has not been popular with everyone. Arguing that the words make up a sign—not an artwork—and are thus in violation of local code, Kinderhook mayor Dale R. Leiser is demanding that the gallery take them down. “The village’s position is that we’re going by our code, and New York State code,” the mayor told the New York Times, which first reported the story. 

“We are actively contesting the village’s assertion that this work is signage and not art,” Shainman said in a statement. “The School is a place of cultural enrichment for the community and has permits to show artwork both inside and outside of the building. We have never before dealt with issues of censorship.”  

Eventually, art won out. The NYC design platform Surface reported on February 4, 2021 that “After a months-long legal controversy, the zoning board of Kinderhook, New York, voted unanimously in favor of Truth Be Told, acknowledging that it qualifies as an artwork and is thus protected under the First Amendment. In May, 2021 the work traveled to the Brooklyn Museum, where it will be displayed on the outdoor plaza near the entrance to coincide with an exhibition of contemporary works from the permanent collection.

Shainman has represents Cave and a number of other highly regarded international artists, including Ghanaian El Anatsui, who won the Venice Biennial Golden Lion in 2015. Shainman featured him in a solo exhibition the same year to honor the first anniversary of The School, one of several galleries he operates.

One of El Anatsui’s textural masterpieces

If you’re in Kinderhook (just south of Albany, NY) on a Saturday afternoon, be sure to drop into The School to see the work of Rose Simpson, Native American artist who’s work features in a number of prominent museums. She’s the daughter of renowned sculptor Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo) and metal artist Patrick Simpson. She works with clay, steel, reed, and found objects, and views her work as a media for healing and truth telling. Her “I’m Not Kidding Around: I’m Serious” video on YouTube imparts a sense of her vision and mission in art and gives a beautiful view of some of her work. “We’re in a space in our human interaction with our planet . . . we’re in big trouble and the work that has to be done is kind of scary, kind of intense. It’s time to move on.”

An earlier Simpson work, not in The School’s exhibit (no images are available from the new show)
Truth Comes to the Brooklyn Museum

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