In a Zoomed press preview this morning about “Until,” Nick Cave’s monumental, injustice-addressing collection of installations opening Saturday at the Momentary in Bentonville, Crystal Bridges and Momentary curator Lauren Haynes provided a poignant show-stopper of an observation: “Under the Crystal Cloud, I feel like I can breathe.” For an African American who witnessed the smothering of George Floyd earlier this summer, that would be a precious feeling.
The “Crystal Cloudscape” is Cave’s piece within “Until” that helps illustrate the question, “Is there racism in heaven?” “Until,” which premiered in 2016 in a vast gallery at MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which like the Momentary is in an old industrial building), was born of what the show’s first curator, Denise Markonish, described as a “tragically American moment”: the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
“That’s when everything came together,” Cave said of his planning for the work: The legal maxim “Innocent until proved guilty” has become for African Americans in this country “guilty until proven innocent.” Known for his sound suits, sound-maker encrusted suits made to be worn by dancers as a form of performance art, Cave was inspired to immerse the visitors to the 18,000-square-foot space at MASS MoCA with millions of objects in six installations that would encourage consideration of disparate forms of justice. At MASS MoCA, “Until” was about the black experience; when it appeared at SydFest in Sydney, Australia, the treatment of aboriginal people was front of mind.
“Until” is entered through the “Kinetic Spinner Forest,” an installation of thousands of spinning objects hung from the ceiling, a dizzying field of kaleidescope-like discs on which images guns, bullets and targets are imposed. The “Beaded Cliff Wall” contains millions of netted plastic pony-tail beads, shoelaces and rope in which a such things as a peace symbol, a smiling face and a rainbow are woven. Shimmering party streamers make up “Flow Blow”; a video installation puts viewers in the center of a room of staring eyes in “Hy-Dyve”; a bronze hand pointing skyward — like the gravestone art of the 18th century — is surrounded by a flower wreath in “Unarmed.” Haynes’ freeing installation, “Crystal Cloudscape,” is made up of 24 chandeliers ensconced in a thick crystal cloud; viewers will be able to see it from above, from ladders, or below, from the lower mezzanine.
In contrast to the serious matter of injustice, the show’s physical elements of joy — bright chandeliers, beads, crystals, glass spinners — are also meant to inspire hope. “Until,” Cave said, is an “interventional” installation where people can confront “the isms that are global issues and concerns.” While he initially had doubts about the Momentary’s space — on his first visit, he said, “I was like it’s not possible. The Crystal Cloud cannot fit in here” — he has seen an evolution. “It has taken on a whole different format … . It is really quite magnificent. The Momentary has gained an entire otherness that had never happened anywhere else.”
For him, there are elements of “Until” that bring him comfort, Cave said. “And so that is the takeaway: that everyone is going to come to it from all sorts of directions. But no one is going to leave without seeing what commitment looks like, what standing up for something looks like.”
“Until” runs through Jan. 3, 2021. The show is free, and no reservations are required, but visitors must wear face coverings and maintain social distancing. There will be a limit placed on visitors to the museum.
A lineup of virtual, in-person and popup programming is being scheduled with local and regional performers and artists, Haynes said.