Sometimes it feels like we’ve become a nation squatting in the ruins of our past. Living off scrounged philosophy and canned food discovered in wrecked basements, warming ourselves over the flickering fires of liberties ignited long ago and not quite extinguished. There’s so much stuff scattered everywhere, garish and contradictory, trash pushed up into enormous cliffs and walls. It takes focused attention to make any sense of it, and an act of rare genius to render the rubble into art.
I almost missed the Nick Cave show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Why go? Well, I’d seen one of the artist’s quirky Soundsuits — a sequined costume topped with a kind of exaggerated pope’s mitre — at the Whitney in New York a couple years back. He’s a Chicago artist, and while I only recently realized he is a different person than the Australian singer of the same name, I try to keep track of Chicago artists. I also noticed friends on Facebook posting photos of hundreds of delicate foil spinners when the show opened in mid-May.
I’ve long passed the get-to-the-show-when-it-opens phase of my life, and am now firmly trudging through the try-to-see-it-before-it-closes part. With the Cave show closing Oct. 2, the canyon floor was hurtling up at me.
Still, not exactly a pitchfork at the back prodding me downtown. Perhaps key, my wife also wanted to go, and we paired a visit to the MCA Sunday with hitting the last day of the Chicago Jazz Fest. I’d point out how downtown was jammed with throngs of happy tourists, but that’s becoming cliche. Still, if only all those patriots edgily fingering their weapons downstate and projecting dire thoughts at a city they last visited in 1992 could muster the courage of a 4-year-old girl in a tutu to walk down Michigan Avenue. It might be an education for them. Or might not, given the current genius to see, not what’s in front of you, but what’s between your ears, projected upon the world like a slideshow.
I’m glad we went. Because while the colorful Soundsuits, dripping with beads and buttons and bling, are weird and wry and engaging, what really struck me is how Cave takes ephemera, the kitsch you see sold on a blanket on city streets, and assembles it into tableaus of significance.
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