Motown,The Motor City, Hitsville USA, lots of things come to mind when you mention Detroit. This time last year the city made headlines when it declared bankruptcy (it’s been the largest municipality to do so in US history). News since then has been of dwindling population, declining property values, increased crime rates, a water scandal, urban farming, hipster startups, the list goes on. It seems like people see the D as post apocalyptic waste or wonderland, possibly primed for a comeback, possibly too far gone. Whichever camp you belong to, consider taking a new look through artist Nick Cave’s newest and most ambitious project as he “Takes Detroit” this summer.

This isn’t the first encounter Cave’s had with Detroit, during his time as a graduate student at the Cranbrook Academy of art in nearby Bloomfield Hills, Cave says his connection with the city saved his life. Decades later, Cranbrook is now the epicenter of his project which includes performances, dance workshops and a solo exhibition titled Here Hear at the Cranbrook museum on view through Oct. 20th

Those familiar with Cave’s work will immediately recognize his vibrant sound suits installed in the gallery’s main space. Here Hear includes suits that span the whole of Cave’s career including an early one made of sticks. By contrast to those made of beaded garlands and sock monkeys, their forbearer seems modest if not eery but reminds the viewer of it’s original purpose. Cave began these pieces in the early nineties as a response to the beating of Rodney King.

The first suit was meant to conceal its wearer’s race, gender and class as a means of protection, a theme that seems especially pertinent considering the current state of social affairs in America with concerns to the police. The suits now incorporate found objects, clothes and housewares into forms that are at once totemic and absurdly fantastical with a density and visual complexity that holds up to multiple visits and re-visits.

The gallery’s other rooms feature pieces exploring themes of materialism, collective dreaming and cultural history. One stand out is a piece titled Hustle Coat. This heavily adorned trench speaks about iconography via fashion and Cave’s memories of seeing “hot” merchandise for the first time as a child. Another highlight is a room dedicated to dreaming and shared experience. Here seven shimmering sound suits stand under a newly commissioned tapestry that mimics the night sky Cave and his six brothers often stared at together when they were young.

From now till Oct Cave will be collaborating with Detroit groups and organizations including the Museum of Contemporary Art, the African Bead Museum and various local dance and music companies  in performances, dance labs and photography projects. What the artist is calling his “invasions” are meant to make people see Detroit in a new way and give back to the culture that fueled him as an emerging artist. “Detroit’s always been on the cusp of falling apart and rebuilding itself,” says Cave, “but as of today, I’m feeling the same urgency and the same energy that I felt back in the ’80s.”(x)

For those outside of the Detroit area, an exhibition catalog “Greetings from Detroit” has been published. It is NOT available online but it can be purchased by phone and shipped from Cranbrook for around 40 dollars (domestic shipping). In my quick flip through on opening day I’d say it’s absolutely worth it.You can also track the project on social media: #herehear #nickcavetakesdetroit #cranbrookartmuseum

Feature image via the author

Originally published by

Further Reading:

Schedule and gallery of events via Cranbrook

More on Nick Cave via his Gallery

Nick Cave interviewed by the Detroit Free Press

To purchase “Greetings from Detroit” dial 248.654.3320

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