Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Please Do Not Touch"

"Meet Me at the Center of the Earth," currently at the Cincinnati Art Museum, is a revelation.  A survey of Nick Cave's voluptuous costumes, performances and sculptures, the show is not actually an exhibit as much as an "invasion."  I put "invasion" in quotes because that's what Cave often calls what happens when people don his costumes and go gallivanting around town:  art takes over the atmosphere, and even the world.  And in this case the institution.  Cave's flirty, garish, gorgeous costumes merge the kitschy, kitchen-sink glamour of Bob Mackie with the folk-art intensity and precision of Thornton Dial.  Throw in some Leigh Bowery and Jim Henson and Alexander McQueen and (what the hell?) Parliament Funkadelic and you have yourself a militant miraculous mega-party in the RuPaul's Drag Race Interior Illusions Lounge.   

Of course there's the high-minded allusions here to ancient rituals and African dances too, the Shamanistic obviousness.  But what I love about Cave's work is its complete and total showmanship, a dedication to spectacle that creates other worlds just through sheer force of will.  Hulking yet delicate, neon-colored as well as the mucky brown hues of old sweaters, his costumes/contraptions overtake each gallery at the Cincinnati Art Museum, functioning like a smart-assed Greek chorus chanting over and over how both important and unimportant art is.  Cave gets the joke, and his work has both the seriousness and the insouciance of greatness. 

"Please Do Not Touch" state placards on the floor in front of each of his works; I kept hearing that phrase whispered over and over in the haughty, pissed-off voice of a spectacularly resplendent drag-queen.