Institute of Contemporary Art
February 5 – May 4, 2014
Apparently Cave, an African-American artist who had, before embarking on a career as a visual artist trained as a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, was inspired to first construct his Soundsuits – large, distinctive constructions out of different kinds of fabric and with different decorative embellishments – in 1992 after news of the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police came to the surface. Conceived as kinds of protective second skins, these inventions replicated over the following two decades and took on a wide variety of forms.
Some of them are finely wrought and they are all different. One is covered with crocheted bags. One has multicolored sequin patterns. One is made out of knotted throw rugs, another out of buttons. Some are full length and some are in miniskirt style with tight, colorful leggings.
There is something about this colorful array, a kind of decorative entertainment of craftworks that reminded me of Dale Chihuly’s exhibitions in glass. Here the medium is fiber, but, like the Chihulys, they make the most of enjoyably replicated themes. Apparently these body suits are are sometimes used in live performances, which struck me as a very weighty and hot proposition. Nonetheless, they are amusing and appealing to see.
How interesting it is that these pieces, conceived in response to that awful episode of police brutality, are so whimsical and innately amusing. Part of the challenge of looking at them and taking in their variegated humor is knowing that the impetus for their creation was so dire.
The other class of sculptural constructions on display in this exhibition is a series of works created with endless strands of beads woven upon one another. Three of these sculptures stand in the middle of the floor and each frames a dog who sits upon a couch within it. There is also a four-paneled wall piece which, with the swirl of its overlapping strands of beads, seems like a sculptural Jackson Pollock painting, with somewhat similar energy and visual drama. Embellished with various lampshades, ceramic birds and fruit, it also has a playful hide and seek quality that draws one into closer inspection of its details.