Tim Nye

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Portrait of Tim Nye in front of “Bigamy Hood,” 1965/2011, Judy Chicago
Sprayed automotive lacquer on 1965 Corvair Car Hood, 48 1/2″ x 52″ x 3″
Photo: courtesy Nye + brown

Even in New York, where’s he been an art world player for two decades, Tim Nye has always nurtured a unique persona: at once hip and downtown in his tastes, while ambitiously uptown and upscale in his business savvy. The scion of a real estate fortune, Nye founded Thread Waxing Space, a cutting-edge art gallery and performance space, in 1991, in a cast-iron Broadway loft in Soho. In 2002, he opened a new, eponymous gallery, Nyehaus, at the venerable National Arts Club on Gramercy Park. In between, he became a wealthy internet entrepreneur, gained renown as a fashionable art world party host with a penchant for grand gestures, and became increasingly involved with the postwar LA artists, whose careers he has continued to trumpet effusively over the past decade, in New York and Europe. In 2010, he took his role as Ferus Gallery advocate directly to its doorstep, when he subleased the original Ferus space on La Cienega Blvd, to show works by the original artists. This spring, during the Venice Biennale, he organized a sprawling palazzo-scale exhibition of postwar California artists in (the original) Venice, called, fittingly, “Venice In Venice.” This September, Nye joined forces with LA art dealer Lexi Brown, to open a new gallery in LA, in the heart of Culver City, next to Blum & Poe on La Cienega. Their first show, “The Lords and the New Creatures,” celebrates the LA car culture through a mash-up of automotively inclined artists of the ’60s and ’70s, from Bengston to Burden, to a clutch of younger artists surveying similar asphalt. To discuss Nye’s unique role in promoting LA artists in New York, Europe, and now LA itself, art ltd. editor George Melrod sat down with Nye at his new space. Because the gallery had sent all its chairs to its booth at Platform art fair, there was nowhere for Nye to sit, so he perched casually on a sculpture podium, embracing his placement amid the exhibition with a nonchalant grin.

GM: Well, how did the fair [Platform] go for you, first of all?

TN: The fair was an attempt to bring an international audience to LA, by banging it up with Pacific Standard Time, and–it was a good, LA-only fair. No Europeans, no New Yorkers to speak of. I mean…

GM: They gave you a pretty prime spot, next to ACE.

TN: Yeah, they did everything they could. And Adam [Grossman] killed himself to make it as successful as it could be. I think it’s more, the eleven hours to Europe, and–it’s just really hard to attract an audience beyond the locals. But that said, you know, it’s definitely good connecting with a lot of the collectors here that I didn’t know, that my partner Lexi knew to some degree.

GM: What is the program you’re doing together? Is it both “The Lords” and “New Creatures” –both LA greats and the new generation?

TN: Yeah… We’ll do some solo projects with the LA greats, but we’re more interested in recontextualizing them, as in this show about car culture and their obsession with finish and how that was embodied in their work. And how other artists, like Chamberlain, Burden, address these issues as well.

GM: When you were starting out–obviously, I remember you from Thread Waxing Space (in New York), which is now twenty years ago…

TN: That’s true, 1991. It’s the 20-year anniversary. We just got a Warhol grant to do a book.

GM: It was an amazing space… Just reading about the gallery again, I read about all these performances that I missed. You did some great installations there… But were you always in New York? Or when you were doing your high-tech stuff, were you in California as well?

TN: We were more in California when we were doing work in the entertainment and media business, in the mid-’90s. We did some film production and television production out here. And then we were in the Internet content business, which also brought me out here a bit. But never really for any art-related projects.

GM: When did you get the bug for mid-century LA art?

TN: I had it really in college. Robert Irwin was my absolute hero, and the book that Lawrence Weschler wrote [“Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees”] kind of became my bible. It was obviously about Irwin’s work, but it was interesting way of looking of at art, and architecture, and beyond…

GM: Where were you in school, Tim?

TN: Cornell. Then I did an MBA, and I did the Whitney Independent Study program.

GM: When you were working at Thread Waxing Space, and for the next decade or so, were you looking at California art at that time, or not really?

TN: Not in the Thread Waxing Space days… I was building a foundation collection, starting in about 2001. And, without consciously looking at LA art of multiple generations–and there’s such different aesthetics, from the Minimalists to somebody like Jim Shaw or Jason Rhoades –all of a sudden I kind of took a step back from what the foundation was collecting and realized that LA was a really embedded part of my aesthetic… I was actually doing a collaboration show with Pace Gallery of Tim Hawkinson. I was showing a body of work that I put together over a couple of years, so we were ready to go, but Hawkinson was going to do a new show for Pace, and just couldn’t meet the deadline. So we pushed it back a year. With two weeks to go, I had to figure out a great show to do, and I owned two Robert Irwin works: an acrylic column and a disc. So I built a show around that.

GM: Where was this, at the Gramercy space?

TN: Yeah, at Nyehaus, at the Gramercy. And that was kind of the trigger that was, sort of like, “Wow. This is a really interesting group of artists.” And as I followed up with a one-person show of Kauffman… then Peter Alexander, Laddie John Dill… it just became this undiscovered group of artists, or certainly, under-appreciated group of artists, that really could use exposure outside of Los Angeles.

GM: Would you say that your interest in these postwar LA artists is both a labor of love and a calculated aim toward the market? Is part of the idea that a lot of these guys are under-valued, so therefore their stock can go up in New York and Europe?

TN: Well, that’s always been kind of my approach. You know, I would always… look at artists that hadn’t maybe reached the full potential, that there was a nice interesting niche that overlapped with the passion that I had for the work. And, you know, seeing an opportunity… David Zwirner, which was the first big show that I curated, I think got more press and traffic than he had for almost any other show. There was a lot of, “Oh my God, I didn’t know about these artists. This is so fantastic that you brought this to New York.” Cause there hadn’t been a big Light and Space and Finish [Fetish] show, at least for decades. And I don’t think there’s ever been a comprehensive show. Maybe Pace did one really early on… But even Europe… When I did “Venice In Venice” this summer, where a really, full-blown international art community saw the show, there were so many museum curators from Madrid, Barcelona, etc., that just were like, ‘Oh my God. This is so missing in our collection. We really need to look much deeper into this.’

GM: Tell me about the “Venice in Venice” project. You rented a large palazzo near Peggy Guggenheim’s, two floors… I heard you had a whole Light and Space floor, and then another for painting and assemblage.

TN: Yeah, the ground floor was cavernous… It had one main grand hall and all these
little alcove rooms that were perfect for showing Light and Space work. So we, in most cases, built perfect boxes to do a Turrell work, to do a Ron Cooper work… Laddie John Dill loved the rawness of the catacombs, so he didn’t do anything except light different little niches in the space, and dealt with the condition of the space. And then, upstairs, the artwork really had to interact with the Rococo architecture… Larry Bell, for instance, was in a room that was paneled with 14th-century
mirrors… There was a great McCracken plank, one of the marbleized planks, that was blocking the entrance to one of the rooms that wasn’t available to us. And then the wall itself was marbleized. So it really–going back to Weschler’s book–really heightened your eyesight in a way, where you really noticed the minutiae of… the architecture, and it brought out a lot in the art as well.

GM: Were there other shows at Venice that were also presenting work for sale?

TN: Well, we weren’t officially for sale, we actually did the show through the foundation, because in order to be an official part of the Biennale, the show had to be–non-profit. But there was a lot of interest that was reclaimed through the gallery.

GM: I hear you commissioned Billy Al Bengston to jazz up some gondolas.

TN: Yeah, we got Quiksilver to sponsor the sale, the purchase of two gondolas, and Billy kind of taking into consideration that the gondolas were the most slow form of travel, painted them Ducati red and Ducati yellow, as an ode to the Italian motocross champion… A nice paradox.

GM: You also have “V in V” tattooed on your wrist?

TN: I do. (Grinning, shows his wrist.)

GM: There it is.

TN: At one point, the clock was ticking to raise the money… And I knew if I got a “V in V” tattoo… [instead of] that email that says ‘Sorry, for lack of funding, we’re not going to be able to do this project’… I just self-fulfilled… that we would really make this happen.

GM: What was the genesis of your re-creating the Ferus space? It was around January 2010 that you reopened the original space at 723 La Cienega. For, what, six months, or five months?

TN: Well, it was initially ten [months] from the LA Art Fair. Someone said, ‘Oh, I heard about this guy, he’s a decorator, he leased the original Ferus space, and he’s looking for somebody to do something there.’ And so, we did a kind of pop-up greatest hits of Ferus show… We made an agreement to take the lease, indefinitely, essentially. Then as soon as he realized that it was a big success, he tried to change the terms of the deal… We did another show of Ed Moses’ early drawings, and then had just had it… At that point, Lexi and I kind of hooked up and realized that as historically cool as Ferus was… that the location was limiting, and the scale of the space was limiting. Though we had a lot of fun.

GM: The original concept there was showing lesser-known works by these major artists of the ’60s and that era?

TN: Yeah, it was going to be pretty exclusively that. And I liked the idea of having an outpost in LA. Then things started to really come together in building an audience for these guys. And it occurred to me I shouldn’t just put my toe in the Los Angeles waters, but do something serious. And then this space next to Blum & Poe opened up…

GM: Are you commuting back and forth between New York and LA?

TN: Yeah. It’s two weeks here, and–I have a daughter, I go back and take care of her for two weeks.

GM: But you still have your gallery in Chelsea.

TN: Yeah.

GM: And you’ve rented a house on Abbot Kinney or something?

TN: I rented a house on the canals…

GM: How is business done differently here?

TN: It’s easier, to be honest, here. I think the community in general, from the galleries, is more open to collaboration. There are a few exceptions, but it’s just a warmer community. In organizing a brunch, you know, you get an easy attendance of people who are open to new experiences and appreciate the efforts that the gallery makes…

GM: Aren’t many of the PST artists already represented by other galleries?

TN: Not really. I mean, Billy is unrepresented but is always super-available to me, and is a very close friend. I represent Peter, Laddie, Ron Cooper… Ed Moses, I work with, even though he works with other galleries as well… There isn’t this sense of exclusivity. Robert Irwin now is represented by L&M, but they have–and so has Pace–been happy to present works when Irwin felt it was a good context for him, as in Venice. So it doesn’t feel like there’s barriers in that sense… Then, there are some related artists who would obviously make sense. I think LA has an opportunity to show some blue chip artists that don’t have representation here. Whereas in New York, the brand is really all about “LA ’60s.” Out here, there’ll be a very coherent brand, but…

GM: More room for nuances.

TN: Yeah. Exactly.