“Made by Whites for Whites” at 513 West 20th Street was concerned with black history and the inception of the slave trade, which was documented by a huge mixed-media work Sea Sick (2014), combining paintings of sailing ships blithely plying the waves with the head of a black man, originally a humidor for storing cigars made from tobacco harvested by slaves. Cave’s title is ironic: in English-speaking America, the slave was made by whites for whites, first as agricultural laborers but then in myriad roles, ranging from bathroom attendant to object: a humidor, a golliwog, or the slave-boy figurine holding his master’s horse. The black man was transmuted into the white man’s creation. Cave brilliantly inverts the process, making black art out of the collected wreckage of racist artifacts.
“Rescue,” at 524 West 24th Street, evinced another facet of Cave’s humor. Here statues of rescued dogs were posed on furniture and surrounded by halos of flowers. Cave’s rescues are caught up in a world of kitsch, reminding us that we romanticize animals while treating our fellow men inhumanely. The pastoral settings Cave created for his dogs contrast with the pastoral hell of slavery. Cave touchingly dedicated this show to Claude Simard.
A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 114.