Sunday, June 07, 2009
Yesterday was the last day of the last show at the Nielsen Gallery in Boston. After over four decades of service to the New England art community, they are closing their doors. No artist living in the region needed to be told what a sad day it was.
If you wanted to watch baseball, you went to Fenway; if you wanted to see painting, you went to Nielsen. Not the ICA, not the MFA, not Krakow: Nielsen. It wasn't always pretty, but you always got the real thing. The raw, beautiful, awesome real thing. It was up close, intimate, intelligent, engaging. They didn't just lay out a meal, a buffet; every show was a feast, a feast for almost half a century. I don't know how they did it. It must have taken a toll. And now they are gone.
Nielsen is famous for championing one artist. Porfirio DiDonna. He is their greatest success and maybe their greatest disappointment. But that is another story, suffice it to say that an art world hopelessly governed by fashion never pointed its fickle finger his way. A brilliant painter who died young, DiDonna got from Nielsen what every artist wants from their dealer: someone who believes in them completely and loves everything they do. A mother's love. There isn't an artist in New England who didn't want to show with Nielsen at some time or other.
One of the things that made Nielsen special and unlike anyone else in the business anywhere in the world is that they were always sitting right there when you walked in the door. Nina Nielsen and her partner/director, John Baker. Until recently they never had more than a desk separating them from any artist, collector, art lover or crackpot walking in off Newbury Street(that could be all one person in my case). They were always available to talk about anything with anyone anytime. I've been in galleries all over the world, and that is uncommon, especially for a world class venue. Most dealers have an army of personnel that protect them from everyone. They are sometimes three rooms deep, behind locked doors. Nina Nielsen and John Baker greeted the world out front with incredible warmth every day forever and fed it a world class menu of painting and sculpture. No one ever went away hungry.
I came to Boston from Manhattan and parts unknown almost twenty years ago. Yes, I had written a cover article on Porfirio DiDonna for Arts that would have made any artist's mother happy, but in a town that tells you up front to go to the back of the line, they welcomed me into their family; they let me play. One catalog essay, one invitation to show solo, one summer show, one sale, a few meals, and plenty of lively conversation. I'm very grateful for what they've done for art, for Boston, and for me. I probably wouldn't have moved here if they hadn't been here, and now that they are closing, it will be strange without them.
John Baker said it was strange to be in the gallery now that they had announced that they were closing. He said it was like being at his own wake. Alive. I was there to pay my respects and say goodbye, but it was weird. I wished I hadn't gone. I don't like funerals, mostly because the one person you would like to see isn't there. In this case they were there, and that was weird. You end up being grateful to talk about anything but the elephant in the room. You talk about stupid stuff. You don't talk about the deceased. We didn't even touch on the last show. I talked about buying art at auction. I was stupid. It was weird. My other problem is that I cry when I'm sad. Always have. Lassie, Charlotte's Web, you name it. This made me sad, but I didn't cry, not this time, and I still haven't. It is a death to be sure. The only art sanctuary in the whole Northeast is gone. The only place you could go into and know that art was alive and well and mattered, and was all that mattered, is gone. If you want art now, you will have to make it yourself, find it yourself, look for it somewhere else; Nielsen is closed for business, for good. Thank you for the memories, and happy trails to you both. You will be missed.