“An Honest Expression of Love”: Inside Nick Cave’s New Exhibition

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Nick Cave Stranger Than Kindness exhibition Gucci Copenhagen
Handmade books and artworks created throughout the 80s: These items offer a glimpse into Cave’s obsessions, contradictions and state of mind of the time.The pictures are made from blood and hair and glue and found objects, such as pornographic photographs, religious prayer cards, kitsch lenticular prints, and lyrical ideas. Photo: Anders Sune Berg / Royal Danish Library

Stranger Than Kindness, the long-awaited exhibition which is sponsored by Gucci, has finally opened in Copenhagen. Here, alongside exclusive imagery, one of its curators talks through the unique show’s conception and highlights

Stranger Than Kindness, the Gucci-sponsored exhibition that looks inside the world of Nick Cave, was due to open in March of this year. The long-awaited show was postponed as cities around the world went into lockdown, but has finally opened at The Black Diamond, part of the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, and will run until February next year. Bringing together a wide-reaching collection of objects – numbering over 300, displayed across eight rooms – both created and collected by Cave over the course of his life and career, Stranger Than Kindness is a uniquely immersive show that explores the celebrated musician’s creative sphere. 

Much of what makes up Stranger Than Kindness are objects that feed into Cave’s artistic process. Cave, who co-curated and co-designed the exhibition, describes these as “the material that gives birth to and nourishes this official work”. “There is an enormous amount of this peripheral stuff – drawings, maps, lists, doodles, photographs, paintings, collages, scribblings and drafts – which are the secret and unformed property of the artist,” he says. “These are not to be seen as artworks so much as the wild-eyed and compulsive superstructure that bears the song or book or script or score along. They are a support system of manic tangential information.” 

Shown via installations – one of which intricately recreates Cave’s office – and soundscapes, Stranger Than Kindness is an biographical exhibition which, according to Cave, “feels unprecedented in its audacious reach, its feet rooted in the past while extending into the uncertain future”. Here, the exhibition’s co-curator Christina Back explains the story behind the show in her own words, and talks through some of its fascinating highlights.

Stranger Than Kindness is created in collaboration with Nick Cave and Arts Centre Melbourne that holds a great part of Nick Cave’s collection. Being created together with the artist, the exhibition has become an unorthodox fusion of biography, autobiography and fiction, a spatial, multi-sensory exploration of Cave’s many real and imagined universes. The exhibition is a work of art in its own right. 

“There are so many highlights! Nick Cave’s body of work encompasses a wide range of media and his archives are bountiful and diverse. If I should pick a few, it would be: the recreation of his office, which is a cornucopia of insight into a creative mind, especially the large collection of notebooks that reveal the anatomy of Nick’s song writing, how the lyrics come together, are negated and migrate. Nina Simone’s chewing gum, which was kindly lent to exhibition by Warren Ellis – a small fragile item that holds the greatest story, and a lovely example of how things can carry a meaning much larger than the thing itself. And Nick Cave’s new piece Shattered History, written and recorded for the exhibition – the text and the music capture the essence of the exhibition in the most beautiful way, and it touches me deeply every time I hear it. We learn that ultimately the exhibition is a vast act of love and generosity.

“One of the things I was most surprised about discovering in Nick Cave’s collection was all his handmade books from the 80s. Before Nick started playing music he went to art school, and in some way it seems like his interest for art and this way of working have stayed with him throughout the years. Another great surprise to me was how easily Nick adapted to working in the exhibition format – a slow complex construction process that often takes years. Very little rock’n’roll. When we first reached out to him three years ago he was quite reluctant to get involved. I don’t think he sees himself as a nostalgic person so the idea of a big biographic exhibition didn’t have his interest. But as we worked our way into understanding what this could actually be, the idea started to grow on him and he ended up being very involved in both the curation and the design of the exhibition. He once said to me that ‘remembering became the creative act’, which I think is a very good way to explain his change from nostalgia to a piece of work that is also looking forward. 

“Looking at Nick Cave’s other projects over the last years – like The Red Hand Files and the ‘Conversations’ events – it seems like connection has become increasingly important for him in his work, and I think that the exhibition could be seen as a part of this. A candid, urgent and very honest expression of love. Once again, Nick Cave is engaged in tearing away the layers and exposing what is essential. I think this connection with his audience feels, for him, on some level like an act of survival.

Stranger Than Kindness invites visitors to follow Nick Cave’s development as an artist, and allow them to inhabit the thoughts of a creative mind. To celebrate curiosity and wonder in a tangible, physical narrative. But at the same time the exhibition also explores what shapes our lives and makes us who we are. The human condition in all its facets – its light and dark. So maybe the exhibition can also be a mirror in a time of change and uncertainty.”

Stranger Than Kindness: The Nick Cave Exhibition, supported by Gucci, is at The Black Diamond, Copenhagen, until February 21, 2021. The book of the same name is out now.