“What are you doing in my office?” “, launched Nick Cave, on Tuesday afternoon, entering a room full of journalists, in downtown Montreal. His desk? In the heart of the exhibition stranger than kindness, which will welcome the public on Friday, is a room full of scattered books, records and papers. An (almost) identical replica of his real office.
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In 1987, when he was at the height of his heroin addiction, Nick Cave expressed in a will that, in the event of misfortune, a memorial museum be created in his memory, in order to save all his loved ones from the dump. “important children”. ” (in English: ” its important shit »). The Australian singer is (thankfully) still alive, but his important “gogosses” are currently gathered in Montreal in a kind of mausoleum in honor of the many lives contained in his fascinating and tumultuous existence.
A museum in his honor? Nothing less ? “It speaks volumes about the exaggerated view I had of my own greatness at the time,” the musician explained with great disdain during a very informal news conference he gave on Tuesday, from the back of his own office. Dressed in his usual suit, the most punk of crooners, 64 broomsticks and slender as if he were 20, he will have offered generous answers, full of fruitful silences, during which he seemed to be constantly searching for the word that best translated his thoughts. .
The vain young man he once was has visibly given way to an artist who places gratitude at the center of his relationship with the world, after many years lived under the yoke of melancholy and obsession.
All the sacrifices of creating, the illusion of being a genius, all the relationships that disintegrate because you are absorbed in your work, everything that this office represents, in fact, is no longer me. I have realized that when I am on my deathbed, I will not brag to my wife about writing the mercy seat [une de ses grandes chansons]. That is not essential.
Thanks to Cohen
If the messes in his office testify to a creator obsessed with his own universe, the Corridor of Gratitude, the penultimate room in the exhibition, brings together a series of artifacts that draw a portrait of the present in the present. , almost appeased.
Among these: Nina Simone’s famous chewing gum, collected in 1999 by Cave’s partner, Warren Ellis, as well as a letter sent by Leonard Cohen in 2015 after the tragic death of his son, who was only 15 years old. A laconic missive, but that more than anything consoled Nick Cave, he confided on Tuesday. “Dear Nick, I am with you, brother. »
The ghost of Leonard Cohen hangs over the entire exhibition, for the simple and good reason that the author of bird on the wire he is one of Nick Cave’s teachers. The founder of Bad Seeds was 14 years old when a friend of a friend proposed songs of love and hateMontrealer’s third album.
I was just a weird kid in the heart of an Australian town where I couldn’t relate to what mattered to others. Leonard Cohen’s voice sent a seismic shock through me. Suddenly someone understood me. Leonard Cohen’s voice has become like that of a wise friend. listen to the song avalanche it allowed me to put words to my own anxieties, my own anger.
The banal and the sacred
Divided into eight rooms, the exhibition stranger than kindness was created by curator Christina Back, in collaboration with her model, from the rich material of the actual possessions of Nick Cave who, until a few days ago, was lending a hand to the team by even putting things up on the walls (including a recent letter by Tom Waits). “He gave us all, all his books”, swears the commissioner. Poor man, they exclaim. “No, he was very happy. He allows you to buy new ones! »
Behind the first room, the most traditional of the course, in which youth photos are lined up (a Nick Cave, a child, dressed as a cowboy, a slightly older Nick Cave, in the front row of a show by the legendary Australian punk band The Saints), the exhibition takes a turn that is more like immersive art. A room shaped like a circus tent traces the history of The Birthday Party, his first group. Another, plunged into darkness, collects the words of various members of Bad Seeds.
A reproduction of the room Cave lived in in the vibrant Kreuzberg district of Berlin in the early 1980s, it recreates a chaotic storage room where Catholic effigies and Elvis posters rub shoulders. These kitsch objects, bought at the flea market, plant the two poles that articulate the work of Nick Cave, where the banal and the sacred have always been inseparable, and where rock music has always had the charm of a spiritual search.
We tried to avoid making the exhibit seem like a big statement like this: this is Nick Cave, this is what he stands for. The idea was rather to offer a glimpse of things that could enrich the understanding of his work.
Christina Back, Curator
In Copenhagen, where the exhibition was born in April 2021, disciples of Cave showed up every day to examine each of the volumes contained in his vast library. A quick glance: books by Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, Don DeLillo, Rimbaud, Bataille, Lispector, Goethe, Robbe-Grillet, Pessoa, autobiographies of Charles Mingus and Merle Haggard, translations of his own novels.
Christina Back randomly picks up a newspaper that is on a table. She flips through it. “Look here, there’s Kylie Minogue’s number. ” Shall we call him? A colleague of the commissioner fills our hopes. “The diary dates from 1994, it must have changed numbers. »
Montrealer Victor Shiffman, co-producer of the exhibition and who in 2017 was behind the presentation of Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything at the Museum of Contemporary Art, says he saw Nick Cave, a few days ago, spend ten minutes in front of a small screen hanging on one of the walls of the corridor of gratitude, where family photos appear. Images in which the mysterious cursed poet, in the company of his wife and his children, looks almost like an ordinary father. “He was here in this room, all alone, in silence, watching his life pass before his eyes. »
Stranger Than Kindness: The Nick Cave Exhibitionfrom April 8 to August 7, at the Galerie de la Maison du Festival.