Cave, a professor in the fashion department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is as diligent as his work is flamboyant. Cave is up at 6 every morning for a run along the shore of Lake Michigan and in the studio, two floors below, by 8 a.m. He often works till midnight and has up to 10 full-time assistants to help him meet a bruising exhibition schedule. This month alone he will present 50 sculptures and eight short films in France, at Lille 3000, an international arts festival that opened this week. On Nov. 30, he’ll be in Washington, D.C., to stage a performance for the 50th anniversary of the State Department’s Art in Embassies program. Following that, he’ll be back in the studio to prepare a whole new body of work for a solo show at the Denver Art Museum next summer.
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At the front door, it’s immediately obvious that art is Cave’s comfort and his pleasure. The sky-lighted entrance hall is a gallery for works by other African-American artists whom Cave admires — Barkley L. Hendricks, Kehinde Wiley, Zwelethu Mthethwa and Hank Willis Thomas, among them. It leads into the living space, past a guest room and a large office that is another salon. The wall over a worktable stacked with fashion magazines and art books is blanketed by naïve still-life and portrait paintings that came mostly from the Art Student Showcase gallery in New York. Whenever he goes to galleries and art fairs now, he says, “I pray that I’ll find nothing I like.”
Evidently, that prayer has gone unanswered. An eclectic group of contemporary artworks lines the walls of the dining area. Even the center island in the kitchen is partly a pedestal for one of his own assemblages, a wiry spray of porcelain birds and plastic flowers gathered, like all of his art materials and much of his interior décor, from flea markets, secondhand shops or eBay. And he’s an expert shopper. “Love it,” he says, under his breath.
He’s also a historian of his own career. Cave holds on to one piece from his art’s every shift in direction: constructed, abstract paintings in the living room; rough planks hammered with metal scraps in the hall; a vintage blackface lawn jockey beside his bed. Instead of a lantern, the figure holds a branch of battered floral sconces. “He was in a subservient position with the lantern. Now this is an offering. This is no longer a stigma for me anymore,” Cave says. “I’m glad I’m a black man.”