Hunt Fine Arts
by Debra SCherer
I spent many of those summer nights up on my rooftop dreaming up this issue. There we were, surrounded by the twinkling lights and Gothic architecture of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, completely deserted by its residents who were summering elsewhere. One evening we noticed the sounds of clinking glasses and voices coming from below. What was happening down there? A secret space? A new place?
With further investigation I was invited down to meet Tim Hunt, who began his career at Christie’s in London focusing on tribal art. Later, he was convinced to move to New York from his native London at the request of the infamous Fred Hughes, Andy Warhol’s business manager, to sort out the estate after Warhol’s death. Now a private dealer, he has opened this new art space, very private, very intimate and of course, very Gotham.
He explained that this gallery was going to be a tribute to the things he liked most, and in this first exhibit he teamed up with his friend and fellow art dealer Damon Brandt, who describes their shared interest as “the vocabulary of cross-cultural aesthetics.”
So over a few glasses of rosé (the gallery, they told me, had already been nicknamed “Roselandia”) with a few friends, we talked all things Warhol, how the art market and the city itself has changed and why we are all drawn to create analogue experiences in this comic book world.
Damon Brandt: I am much more of a broad stroke guy, and Tim, even though he looks like a broad stroke guy, is obsessive about details. I collect information, but differently. I’ve known him for about 30 years and my father was an art dealer, and Tim as you know, was an illustrious member of the Christie’s tribal team.
Debra Scherer: So while figuring out this issue, we were all here and we didn’t want to go anywhere so we thought, ‘Let’s just do this whole issue about the city. Gotham City!’
DB: It’s a great idea! I’ve said to more fucking people, ‘How much fun is it to be in the city all summer when everyone else is away?’ I would go into the empty restaurants, you know I’m a contemporary art dealer, and these artists that I’ve known forever are like, ‘Wow, you can fucking park in the city!’ We all had our city back, in the spectacular weather!
Tim, can I tell you something? (Looking at the installation) I love the way you’ve installed this, it’s gorgeous. It really is. It’s really beautiful. It crushes me that I’ve gotta take these works down…I love these, I think these are super cool. It’s kind of what I love to do more than anything, is find something that’s ridiculously inexpensive, add a profit on top of it and try to sell it.
One of the reasons I’m here with Tim is because it’s an old school business model! You know, people get so bored if the price point is under 50 thousand now, you know, there’s a whole cast of art world characters who won’t give you the time of day. I need to be able to be as obsessive about a 50 dollar object as I am about a 50 thousand dollar one. Because pricing to me is a meter but not a parameter of what’s going to keep my attention. It’s an indicator of like, ‘I’ve gotta figure it out because everyone’s talking about it.’ I’m a dealer, I’m not an artist, which means that I should be super interested in it but I’m not.
DS: Okay so let’s go back to the ‘80’s. I grew up in the city in the ‘80’s, and it was a very different time, but a lot of it is bubbling back up now.
Tim Hunt: Damon grew up in the city too.
DB: I was born and raised here, I raised my children here, my father’s a Brooklyn boy so he too was born here.
DS: Tim, when did you come to New York?
TH: I moved here full-time from London in May of ‘87 to start working with the Andy Warhol Foundation.
DS: Okay so tell me, how did that happen?
TH: I was visiting New York quite a bit for about 4 years before I actually moved here, and usually I’d go to the Warhol studio when I came because I was very friendly with Fred Hughes, who managed all of Andy’s business. So if Fred was around I would just pop by, so I got to meet Andy a few times and hung out with him as well. Then when Andy died, Fred asked if I’d move over here and help sort his things out. I think he wanted someone there who had worked in an auction house before and was reasonably market savvy. So that’s how the New York chapter started for me.
DS: And when you were still in London?
TH: From ‘80 to ’86 I was doing the tribal art at Christie’s in London.
DS: So, what was the connection between tribal art and then all of a sudden you’re called in to deal with Warhol?
TH: I would say general enthusiasm for art!
DS: Right, a non-specific passion for what you love to do.
TH: My interests are quite wide-ranging.
DS: What would be the best adjective to describe your wide-range of interests?
TH: Well ‘eclectic’ would certainly work.
DS: So how did you start off being interested in tribal art?
TH: The first time I really became aware of it was a year I spent in Paris, which was immediately prior to working at Christie’s, when I had just finished university. In Paris, you would run into it occasionally in people’s apartments the way you didn’t ever in London.
DS: Right, here in America you see it being sold on the sidewalks for 5 cents.
DB: Absolutely, it’s not integrated into people’s cultural lives here.
TH: There’s some fantastic stuff in museums, but until I got into the field, I’d never seen it in someone’s home. Whereas in Paris, it’s often there, even if people aren’t that interested in it specifically, they still want to have three or four bits around. There were pieces spread among various institutions in Paris, mostly in the Musée de l’Homme and the Musée des Arts Africains et Oceaniens. Eventually, mostof the collections were moved to the Musée du quai Branly.
DS: The French, they like things that are very, very brutalist.
DB: Well yeah, that new building where it has all been moved, the Musée du quai Branly, it was like either people loved it or hated it.
TH: I have problems with the exhibition space.
DB: I had problems with everything about the building. At the same time what was fascinating to me is that that museum was one of the most popular museums amongst the immigrant population in Paris. It has been a failure amongst the intelligentsia but it has been a fucking stone cold carnival success amongst immigrants going back to look at the material. So it really went against that classic Musée de l’Armée art on a pedestal level of restraint. The way they did this new installation, these weird winding things, there were caves, the thing on the top, I was staggered because I didn’t like it.
TH: The lighting is really poor.
DB: Well it was dramatic, yeah.
TH: Way too dramatic. They’re trying to make everything look like a dealer’s ad in an art magazine.
DS: So going back to the art world as it was in New York when you arrived to work at the Andy Warhol Foundation, let’s just say, cliché wise, Warhol and his world was the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” of the 1980’s. That whole scene, the people, everything they did, they had all the press on it. To me, at the time, it felt like the whole thing was a living Vanity Fair piece. Artists in general in the ‘80’s in New York were the real stars of society, both high and low.
DB: Yeah, I remember I was living on Bond Street then, and Basquiat was at 57 Great Jones…
TH: …In Andy’s building!
DS: I’m sure you know also when you meet people who are new to the city, they have no idea what it was like here, what the city used to be like in the city that I grew up in. It was dangerous and it was edgy and it was inspiring!
DB: There was definitely a mean, dangerous side to it.
DS: Now it’s just a very different city. In SoHo, the East Village and all of those areas, the artists and squatters were just eating it up.
DB: I felt that Bond Street was interesting because I remember walking out at 45 Bond and I would actually walk between the side walk and the street and you could break hundreds of crack vials under your feet. There was a crack epidemic here then, and to me, the most interesting thing about living on Bond Street is that you could go into SoHo and see a relatively interesting and very vibrant community. 420 West Broadway was happening, Leo Castelli moved there, but the weird thing is that SoHo would look like how it does today, but maybe with fifty percent less people…
TH: And there was a lot more trash on the streets…and more rats!
DB: To me the litmus test of the city’s big fuck up was how great The Bowery was. To me, The Bowery is the most embarrassing boulevard in the city and when I was growing up it was the fucking best. There were soup kitchens, prostitutes…
DS: There was the Mars Bar!
D: Yes! And the main thing, it was fucking dark. It was black! The way the people are scared of the city when the lights go out, that’s what The Bowery looked like all the time. The Bowery to me, and you know I’ve been some weird places in the city, but The Bowery was the funkiest place.
DS: In the Times this week there was a great thing about nostalgia for New York in the 1970’s, and the main thing was about the East Village art scene at the time. Any gallery worth anything was only around for a couple of days. If you were open two weeks you were out! They were the ones who invented the “pop up” gallery idea, but not as a gimmick, just because they probably weren’t paying rent and got caught, or just couldn’t get enough people to climb over squalor and crack vials to see some paintings.
DB: No seriously, the longevity was really like a minute and you were done!
DS: Okay Tim, now that Damon and I have set the scene, in the ‘80’s artists were like rockstars, the gallery scene was totally different. You were at the Warhol Foundation, which must have been crazy!
TH: Yeah, it was fairly early on.
DS: In what way?
TH: Well principally, Andy had an enormous habit of collecting, so we were trying to get a handle on what we had.
DS: Like what it was really worth? Or what it was?
TH: The first big, big thing was the Sotheby’s auction, which was in May of ‘88, only about fifteen months after Andy’s death. So we had to get everything together for that. And a lot of that stuff was at the house. I was working with a guy called Steven Bluttal, who was a friend of Andy’s and had been a curator in the Architecture and Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art, so Fred had a habit of hiring non-contemporary art specialists.
DS: Like you! Elaborate on that.
TH: Fred Hughes preferred to have people come in with all sorts of knowledge.
DB: In the New York Times after [Andy] died, they showed his townhouse that was stuffed with fabulous stuff.
DS: Now they would have called him a hoarder.
TH: Well, same with Fred’s house. The stuff that ended up at Sotheby’s was in the townhouse. Andy’s townhouse really, I mean he had virtually only two rooms you could even get into, because it had become a huge warehouse. He very rarely had anyone in there, all the rooms were filled with boxes and bags. I mean, he bought stuff that he never even unpacked and looked at. Just a crazed collector. There was a lot at his 33rd street studio as well.
DS: So you had to deal with all of that? Everything?
TH: So Steven and I virtually lived there for a year.
DB: Was 33rd Street a large loft?
TH: It was a studio. It was a former Con Ed sub-station. It was like a T-shape with a sort of truncated, off-center stem. There was an entrance on Madison, and the Interview (magazine) entrance was on 32nd Street. So it went from 33rd to 32nd with a wing going out to Madison.
DB: Oh that’s kind of fucking perfect!
TH: The spaces in there were quite awkward but you couldn’t really do much about it. The walls were built to withstand explosions.
DB: This wasn’t your Donald Trump condominium! That must have been super fun.
TH: Yeah it was, it was terrific.
DB: Did you have someone next to you sort of graphing everything and writing everything down? Was there a method to all of this?
TH: Well back then it was all done with polaroids and legal pads.
DB: They spread material out over a number of different sales?
TH: Right, yeah. Ten different sessions. And six catalogues. Overall, his highest quality collection was probably the Art Deco, which he’d been buying in Paris primarily in the late ‘60’sand early ‘70’s, which was before there were any fancy Art Deco galleries. It was all in the flea markets. So you could find great stuff if you knew what you were looking for, and Andy loved sort of the undervalued markets as well.
DS: Okay so take me through the ‘90’s, after the excitement of the big sale.
TH: Then we started focusing on actual “Warhols.”
DS: And his stuff?
TH: Yes. And one of the major projects was setting up The Andy Warhol Museum, which we first started talking about in the late ‘80’s. The idea of the Warhol Museum came up very early on. Several different cities and institutions were “interviewed,” as it were.
DS: So were you part of the process of deciding where it was going to be?
TH: Yeah, a little bit. We couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do it in New York, and various other cities as well. And we were approaching other institutions and collectors. Pittsburgh was very keen.
DB: But the birthplace makes so much sense.
DS: It’s more like a presidential library. So how many museums devoted to a single artists are there in New York City?
TH: In New York City, I think probably none. There is Isamu Noguchi though. Another factor was that, in Pittsburgh, for the same amount of money, we could do much more.
DS: Which is the most New York thing you’ve said. So you feel like the ‘90’s was really about setting up the museum?
TH: Very much about setting up the museum and building these relationships with different galleries. We did a lot of shows of works that people hadn’t seen before. For the last fifteen years of his life, Andy wasn’t exhibiting very much in New York.
TH: And the “Dollar Signs” show got so hammered by critics.
DB: Everybody hated it. Though of course now they’re the most desirable Warhols; therein lies the art world paradox. It was the show they couldn’t sell and everyone hated it.
DS: So what were the popular things? I remember it was the late ‘80’s when they did the big show of his pictures of death, like electric chairs. I think it was at MoMA.
TH: There was the big retrospective at MoMA, that was in ‘89.
DS: I was young and was that cynical “I don’t get art” girl, but I got him, through those images. The Dollar Signs and the Elizabeth Taylor prints were never going to get me, I’m just too cynical. But that work got me.
DB: For me that kind of intuition, that’s my seduction for Andy. I grew up in an environment that gave me all of the language to understand a lot about art, and what I liked about Andy was the fact that all that knowledge is important but a lot of it isn’t. Because Andy is accessible on a lot of different levels, for me that’s what turns me on, the accessibility.
DS: I spent a lot of time in the fashion business, so believe me when I say I can appreciate what seems like it would be superficial but then…
DB: There’s a lot of content and engagement.
DS: And commentary, and I can see it with those kinds of eyes, so you know now when I look at the Elizabeth Taylors, I get it. But it took those real electric chair things and the car accidents for me to say, ‘Oh okay I see, he’s commenting on the media and not being able to look away.’
TH: Speaking of the fascination with morbidity, a big moment for me was a parallel with the other major retrospective since the Modern, organized by Heiner Bastian, which opened in Berlin.
It was meant to open in September 2001. But then 9/11 happened. There were tons of crates at airports all over the United States with Warhols that couldn’t leave for a couple of weeks because all of the airports were shut down. So the opening of the show was postponed by probably three weeks at least.
I got there, and I was having a sort of sneak run through before the opening. The museum was pretty empty and I found myself alone in a gallery, surrounded by Andy’s “Suicide” paintings, which included images of people jumping off of buildings. I lost it.
A couple of weeks prior to that I had to go to Hamburg, and I was staying just on the other side of the lake from the Hamburger Kunsthalle . So I dropped my stuff off at the hotel and had plenty of time so I thought I’d take a stroll around the lake before ending up at the museum. Slightly set back from the lakeside road was a mansion and the fence in front was covered with wreaths and notes from school children, it was very moving. Turns out it was the American Consulate.
DS: I guess people can’t get enough of death and destruction, life imitates art or the other way around? So now, here we are, you’ve done the Warhol thing for a long time. When did you come up with this idea of, ‘I’m going to do my own space?’
TH: I had been thinking about it for years and years but was very sort of comfortable at the Warhol Foundation.
DB: Also they loved him there! Every time we mentioned Tim’s name there would be smiles on their faces, which was a combination of being bemused and being respectful. Tim has always been an amazingly popular character. Every place he has worked, including with me, he has an impeccable reputation.
There’s an eccentricity but there’s also a huge amount of knowledge behind it, there’s a passion. You know, I wait for people like Tim to open up galleries because they’re always different from the norm, they’re not a reflection of the market, they’re a reflection of the visual.
So you know, to go back to the ‘80’s and why this summer was so phenomenal, well serendipity was part of it. I bumped into Tim this summer and the weather was phenomenal and he’s got this really great terrace that looks over the Brooklyn Museum, so it was a summer where everybody was gone and fighting over real estate somewhere else. The thing that was amazing was that the city was filled with people that I wanted to meet that I hadn’t met and there was a sense of community…
DS: I had the same summer. It was like when you stay at school when everybody goes home for Thanksgiving break, so there was a group that formed of all the people that stayed here and we just had a really fun time. So it was the same kind of weird feeling, we made our own group. We were going out to concerts and having dinner parties; stuff that I never do.
DB: Yeah just finding places to hang out, there was a real communality, there was dancing on Tim’s terrace, there was a sense of relief that we weren’t out on Long Island.
DS: That’s all we would talk about on Friday. We’re not like, ‘Oh what time are we leaving?’ And you walk around this neighborhood and you see doormen packing people’s cars over and over again.
TH: Yeah, enjoy that five hour drive!
DB: There was a level of satisfaction of emptiness in our favorite coffee shops… and I live on my bike. So one of my favorite things was every time Tim held one of his get-togethers on Thursdays, I’d take my bike up on the subway and go through Central Park, and the other thing I was really proud of is how beautiful Central Park looked. Central Park is one of my favorite places in the world, Frederick Olmsted designed it from a dump.
TH: Prospect Park is a masterpiece too, they did it about 10 years after Central Park, so anything they couldn’t have done in Central Park they went and did in Prospect Park.
DS: So can you talk more about the whole concept of this space and what you’re doing? You said that you were looking for people who are trying to do something that isn’t just responding to the market, not just what’s going to be popular. So take me through some of your thinking on that? I was part of Vogue for so long and I finally just said enough and I’m going to do my own crazy thing and I don’t care about chasing after celebrities and stuff like that, it’s like, whomever I’m having drinks with this week, that’s who we’re doing the story on!
TH: I suppose there is kind of an educational aspect to this place. Trying to get people to look at stuff differently and with fresh eyes and enjoy some of the things I enjoy. I’ve already done some business with collectors of contemporary art and other fields who hadn’t really looked at tribal art before. Just trying to generate a kind of interest that way.
DB: Tim practices slow art, he is not a fast, hyper dealer. He is somebody who is much more of a long playing album. You have to first have patience and then kind of realize that this is a much more interesting way to look at art. You really live with the stuff.
We’re not into art as a commodity, for example, when I did the show here with Tim, listening to him talk about art, he said a number of times that the thing that is most extraordinary about this work is the pattern created by the negative and not the positive.
That is one of those moments where you get a whole bunch of people lining up and saying tribal art is as sophisticated as anything out there. So that’s what these things are about to me. They almost look like algorithms, there’s something strange and mathematical.
And I think something that Tim likes to look at carefully and then turn people onto is creating connections and relationships with things that we already know. I would have to say, he is one of the most academically literate people in the tribal field that I’ve ever worked with. That’s all I can say. He’s got more accumulated knowledge and is able to explain it in a non-threatening way, but in almost a sort of narrative. There are stories around everything, and what’s interesting about this space is also the contexualizing of it. I don’t know how he fucking remembers all this shit, because he doesn’t look like he should!
DS: That’s an interesting point. For you it’s about slow appreciation of things. So how do you see that in terms of what else is going on in the art world at this time?
TH: Over the next few years I shall do a few contemporary shows I’m sure, it may be slightly more historical or maybe a few “retrospectives” of artists I like who maybe don’t get much representation here. A lot of it is just about trying to share my enthusiasm for whatever it is that’s on the wall and obviously hope that someone will take it home with them and enjoy it.
DS: So the big question is, when it gets colder out, are you going to switch to red wine or stick with rosé?
Hunt Fine Arts, By appointment only… 347 251 7867