Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Looking at Nick Cave with David Brin - 4

David Brin's Postmen; David Brin with Nick Cave's post-men 
(Return to Part 3)
After visiting the Serra installation at Gagosian I took David and Cheryl next door to the Mary Boone Gallery to see Nick Cave's show of "Soundsuits." Of the three shows we saw together, this was the artist and art I knew the least about. Unlike Serra, who's shows I have been visiting since I first moved to New York 15 years ago, and who I've been thinking about ever since (I had a Richard Serra anxiety dream once), I saw Cave's work for the first time only a week or so before meeting the Brins. What I could see I did know walking into the show, was that Cave was clearly not a sculptor in the same sense as Richard Serra. The Modernist consensus was that David Smith was America's greatest sculptor - with Smith setting the bar, both Serra and Cave are solidly (and somewhat confusingly) Postmodernist. What I did know for sure, was that it was a great show, and one I felt certain the Brins would enjoy.

When I first saw the Soundsuits I thought the work was by Nick Cave the musician - which would have been awesome - but tells you how little I knew. My next theory, was that Cave might have been part to the Providence heavy metal art/rock collaborative Forcefield that had stolen the show the 2002 Whitney Biennial - wrong again. By the time I asked David if he wanted a tour of Chelsea I knew at least that Nick Cave was head of the fashion department at the Chicago Art institute, and was pretty sure he had nothing to do with Forcefeild, but otherwise I was going in cold. But it didn't matter, together we had a great time doing what art audiences have done ever since the modernists ceded the center stage of High Art to the many voices who had been waiting in the wings (Postmodernism): trying to figure out, "What-the-hell's-going-on?"
The late great David Smith, Australia (951); Sabato "Simon" Rodia, Watts Towers (1921-54)

I introduced the work by admitting that I knew very little about the artist other than he had not in fact played with the Bad Seeds. And perhaps because Modernism had so far dominated so much of our discussion, I wasn't anxious to start talking about Postmodernism. I told David and Cheryl that I associated the work with outsider art. I mentioned Watts Towers, but David was quick to point out that as odd as the material choices are in Cave's work (rag rugs, tin noise makers, baskets and sticks), that the quality of craftsmanship was obviously professional. That even if the work invoked the art of the mentally ill and incarcerated, it was clearly not the product of one. David was of course correct. I was interested to find out as I was writing this post, that Cave's Soundsuits were inspired not by Watts Towers, but by a much grimmer aspect of LA life:
When the Rodney King incident happened. I was reading in the paper about how the police sort of brought description to him. You know they were talking about, I can’t remember exactly what it said, but they were talking about this big, black, male figure that was bigger than life, that was mammoth-like.
Rodney King; Nick Cave

What I knew very well, and the reason I brought the Brins to see Cave, was that the Modernists had had no place for an artist like Cave. I wanted David and Cheryl to see that contemporary art very much does. That that is a victory worth noting. The Modernists were big on Universals: Truth and Beauty were imagined as not only related, but Universal. "Identity politics" is one of the charges aimed against Postmodernism by it's critics. That identity politics are a particularization of the Universal. That the hyphenated allegiances (African-American, Latino-American, etc) are a watering down of the body politic's potency.

That Modernists had their own identity politics goes unacknowledged by critics of "identify politics," but is obvious looking backwards. To participate at the level of authority, to represent the Universal, in art, politics, or any other public sphere, you had to have a very particular identity: white, male and straight. For these critics, Civil Rights were a schism; Feminism was a schism
. I would never have moved to New York and become an artist if Modernism had triumphed and these schisms had not taken place.
Captain America (2011); Nick Cave, Soundsuit (2011)

One of my all time favorite stories of David's is a short one called Thor vs Captain America. In his introduction he explains that he wrote it for a collection about what if Nazis had won WWII. David wrote a story in which Thor and the other Norse Gods had been conjured by necromancy. The the Allies' victories had been reversed by actual Valkyrie. He had found the premise that a group as wrongheaded as the Nazis could have triumphed so patently absurd - that no possibility grounded in realty would do. I remember not only loving the story but loving the confidence he expressed in that introduction.

I feel the same way about Modernism - not that they were Nazis, but that their program was so totally absurdly puristic and exclusionary that, short of divine intervention, it could not have been sustained. I never in a million years would have introduce David to an artworld in which David Smith was as good as it gets. I was very happy to show him Cave's super soldiers. And while I am pretty certain David wouldn't describe himself as a Postmodernist, it was clear he and Cheryl enjoyed the show on every level. I was only sorry that there were no videos at the gallery so they could have seen how beautifully the costume function with dancers inside of them:
Passport to the Playground (Part 1)
Passport to the Playground (Part 2)

Passport to the Playground (Part 3)

Passport to the Playground (Part 4)

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