Case Study: Nick Cave
Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2012 “Justified” competition, in which an esteemed jury identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on specific metrics.
“Meet Me at the Center of the Earth,” an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, introduced the city to the fabulously bizarre costume art of Nick Cave, a darling of the contemporary art scene. These costumes, known as “Soundsuits,” effectively bridge cultures: they might be described as a cross between Carnival, Liberace, Shonibare, Cockney, haute couture and African ceremony. Cave manages to make sculptures that combine high fashion, surface design, recycling, dance and sound. His resourcefulness transforms the viewer’s perception of secondhand and vintage materials while heightening the tension between the ordinary and the imaginary.
This integrated promotional campaign, including an interactive website, advertising and invasions, drew 75,520 visitors, almost doubling the anticipated attendance projection of 40,000. A pre-promotional survey helped established the direction of the campaign to engage and capture the imagination of the public, which included identifying the most compelling images, the use of the call to action as the title of the show and invasions.
Despite being a show featuring a contemporary artist, “Meet Me at the Center of the Earth” held two promotion-related challenges. The first was that the exhibition showcased costumes, and the second was that promotional material needed to replicate the movement and energy of Cave’s Soundsuits, allowing them to come alive despite being confined within an advertisement or banner. The departure from a more typical art exhibition required a new and dynamic approach to engage and captivate the imagination of the community.
The campaign for “Meet Me at the Center of the Earth” centered on a strong call to action and the energy and color of Nick Cave’s unique set of suits. The call to action on the press ads and wheat-paste campaign screamed “MEET ME,” encouraging everyone who saw them to come to the Seattle Art Museum to meet the Soundsuits and encounter the work of this incredibly unique artist. The implemented promotions were designed to demand attention, on the streets or in newspapers and magazines, through the irresistible juxtaposition of imagery and text. The layering of texture, color and type reimagines the movement and sound provided by the Soundsuits, when in motion.
The promotional campaign for “Meet Me at the Center of the Earth” succeeded in capturing the imagination of the public. The exhibition sought to attract a wide and diverse audience. On-site surveying showed the exhibition engaged new demographics, attracting a more diverse crowd by age and ethnicity. The promotional strategy effectively attracted schools (one teacher related how a student exclaimed “gleefully” that the exhibit “sure beat school”) and families with children, along with those interested in cross-cultural arts and performance. Furthermore, the campaign helped to ensure a strong exhibition turnout following the immensely popular and nearly impossible-to-follow special exhibition on Picasso. The unique elements of Nick Cave’s art and the excessive energy drew nearly double the projected attendance.