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Inside Nick Cave's Stranger Than Kindness Exhibition

Montreal plays host to the multi-media journey, offering insight into the complex life of the beloved artist.

by Madeline Lines

Photo by Anders Sune Berg

There’s a new immersive exhibit that cracks open the mind of the elusive Nick Cave for all to see, walk through, and play around with. Stranger Than Kindness collects hundreds of objects from decades of the musician’s personal and creative life and invites you to engage with the complicated process of an artist’s own myth-making. The experience that wowed audiences in Denmark has landed in Montreal for its North American debut, opening on Friday, April 8 2022. The creators currently have “no plans” for the exhibit to travel to the United States, and it’s likely headed to Europe next. You can catch it in Canada until August 7, 2022.

The sensory walkthrough is divided into eight sections, each with their own soundscape specially crafted by Cave and his creative partner Warren Ellis, a long time member of the Bad Seeds. Cave and Ellis just played back-to-back shows in Montreal on the weekend, on the long-awaited tour for their collaborative album CARNAGE. Stranger than Kindness is the perfect chaser for the concertgoers still buzzing with the magic of the music and hungry for more. 

Cave’s personal touch is felt all over the experience – as it wasn’t an exhibit made about him, but an exhibit made with him. “This exhibition was created in such a deep collaboration with Nick. Over the process of two years, he got more and more involved, and ended up basically being involved in every detail,” says Christina Back, the exhibition’s designer. Cave became co-curator and co-designer. 

It comes as a shock, then, that Cave initially turned down Back’s proposal to make an exhibit about him. The musician wasn’t prone to nostalgia and was turned off by the stale formulas of typical biographical exhibits, so he and Back charted their own kind of map to his life. Stranger Than Kindness makes a point of not being too stuck in any place or time, but ever-evolving, like Cave himself. The Montreal edition features a new ceramic sculpture at the end that Cave just completed. 

If Back had to pick a favourite part of the exhibit, it might be the reimagining of Cave’s office. The musician lent his entire personal library to the exhibit, and visitors are welcome to flip through the pages. “When you step into that space, it feels like stepping into his head. You can go through his library, you can touch his books and read a line,” says Back. “There’s this generosity and intimacy that this space is holding where you really feel that you get very close to him.”

Her advice for heading into the experience? “There’s no right or wrong in this exhibition. There are over 300 items, and a lot of things can be interpreted in multiple ways, as it is with Nick’s music,” says Back. “It really is about trusting yourself, and trusting the experience you have when you go through the exhibition.”

Stranger Than Kindness runs now until August 7, 2022 at Montreal’s Galerie De La Maison Du Festival