09/26/2014 04:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nick Cave Reappropriates Racially Charged Objects


Nick Cave, Golden Boy, 2014

Nick Cave's "Made by Whites for Whites" and "Rescue" are currently on view at Jack Shainman gallery's two locations in Chelsea (some of the new work was first seen at The School over the summer). The artist began this series when he found a container at a flea market shaped like the head of a black man labeled "Spittoon." Shocked and outraged, he began to consider how he might reappropriate derogatory objects such as these, in order to "rehabilitate the problematic loaded object and find a place of reverence and empowerment through reuse."

"Made by Whites for Whites" addresses the prevalence of American racist objects that are too historically significant to be destroyed yet too offensive to be displayed. Rather than discard the objects and ignore their existence, Cave reuses and recycles the racially charged objects, transforming their negative connotation.

Known for his elaborate Soundsuits made of feathers, beads, dyed human hair, buttons, and sequins, Cave approaches his new series with the same aesthetic vibrancy. Haloed by plastic candles, beads, and Capodimonte porcelain birds, the objects are made beautiful and given new meaning. At the same time, the stereotypical representations of blacks force the viewer to confront the existence of these objects. Next to each piece is a description of the story behind the derogatory object incorporated into his work. Some are mass-produced minstrel objects, while others are symbols of black pride, such as the black power fist.

Some pieces, such as Sacrifice are presented as key objects that have not been significantly altered. The severed head of a black man on a stick is hung diagonally with cast hands framing his face, loaning compassion to an object that was once used as a ring toss in a carnival game.

Cave's "Rescue" series of sculptures feature ceramic dogs languishing on decorated pieces of furniture. Like the "Made by Whites for Whites" series, the found object is the central figure, enthroned by an armature of beads and figurines (something we've also seen in his Soundsuits). The canines are meant to be a symbol for black masculinity, as the term "dawg" now holds connotations of brotherhood, respect, and loyalty.

"Made by Whites for Whites" and "Rescue" will be on view at the Jack Shainman Gallery on 513 W. 20th Street and 524 W. 24th Street, respectively, through October 11.

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