Artist Nick Cave talks latest project, HEARD•NY

NYC's Grand Central Terminal will be transformed into housing for a herd of brightly-colored, dancing horses thanks to artist Nick Cave's latest project, HEARD•NY.

Nick Cave, photography by: Travis Magee; courtesy of: Creative Time

By// Mariah Craddick

From March 25 to March 31, New York City’s Grand Central Terminal will be transformed. Thanks to Chicago-based artist Nick Cave, a herd of brightly-colored, dancing horses will take over the famed station. It’s all for his latest project, HEARD•NY, which is part of MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design’s celebration of Grand Central’s hundredth anniversary. HEARD•NY and 60 students from The Ailey School – the official school of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – will present 30 life-size multi-colored, multi-textured horses created by Cave that will periodically break out into choreographed movement accompanied by live music. These “crossings” will take place at the transit hub at 11am and 2 pm every day this week.

Photograph by Travis Magee, Courtesy Creative Time

Photograph by Travis Magee, Courtesy Creative Time

When not in use, the horses, world-renown as Soundsuits – wearable mixed-medium sculptures – will be displayed in Vanderbilt Hall and throughout Grand Central where spectators can get a closer look at their unique craftsmanship.

In recognition of Cave’s first public art project in New York City, caught up with the artist and talked about its concept, the surprising inspiration behind his first Soundsuit, and what he hopes to accomplish next.

What inspired the idea to do HEARD•NY with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Creative Time and the Ailey School?

It came about as a project that I started in Texas at Texas State University, where I was invited to do a residency. Then I began thinking about myself as an artist and the civic responsibilities within my work because I normally do installation work in galleries and museums. But I was interested in bridging that gap and doing a piece more in the public realm. We don’t take out the time anymore, where we can dream or think in this imaginary way. I wanted to bring that into the world.

Photograph by Travis Magee, Courtesy Creative Time

Photograph by Travis Magee, Courtesy Creative Time

Your signature pieces, Soundsuits, were first created in the early ’90s. What inspired the idea for the first one ? Some say it had something to do with Rodney King. 

Yes, the Rodney King [riots] in 1992. The first Soundsuit came from the various ways to describe his identity. I began thinking about what it would look like as an image – how irrelevant one must feel being dismissed, discarded, just left there. Then, as a Black male, being racially profiled in situations and how it can change your makeup really made me think about creating and responding to that particular incident. I wanted to use material that spoke in that same way.

I happened to be in the park one day and looked on the ground and there was this twig. Something dismissed, discarded, irrelevant. You walk on it, over it. Then I started collecting twigs in the park and made this entire sculpture. I realized I could physically get into it and started thinking about the role of protest – because in order to be heard you have to speak louder. I can stand still and there’s no sound, but the moment I move in the piece it makes sound. That’s how the term “Soundsuit” came about.

Would it be fair to describe the performance  a flash mob, in terms of the surprise factor?

Well, I think it’s going to surprise people but it’s also being publicized. So it’ll be people who know it’s happening who will come to support looking for those specific times, but there’ll also be a lot of people who by coincidence will be at the station when this happens. We’ll be developing the piece right on site and we’re working with two harpists and a group of percussionists.

What do you ultimately want to achieve with this project?

We did a test of this performance a couple of times in Texas. It really brings people together in the most delightful way. It’s refreshing to have an encounter with something that is extraordinary but of the ordinary. It’s a horse, but it’s extraordinary in terms of how it’s built.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

I need to take a break, seriously. But I want to continue to do my work and continue to be as effective, useful, and purposeful as I can.

Photograph by Travis Magee, Courtesy Creative Time

Photograph by Travis Magee, Courtesy Creative Time

For more information about Nick Cave and HEARD•NY, visit