The Salon Meister: Richard Timperio of Williamsburg’s Sideshow Gallery
This profile of the artist-turned-gallery director and Williamsburg pioneer Richard Timperio, in our PERSONNEL FILES series, focuses on Sideshow Gallery’s annual salon, The Sideshow Nation, closing March 24.
Richard Timperio lends new meaning to the terms “skying” and “grounding” with the humungous 470-artist group show, Sideshow Nation, at his Williamsburg gallery. The precedent for such jam-packed art installation that comes to mind is the 19th-century style of exhibition of the great European academies and salons with their paintings hung floor to ceiling to which the public flocked en masse. Sideshow Nation closes this coming weekend after a two-month run.
“I never liked the idea of a Christmas show,” the artist-turned-gallerist tells me. “A lot of little trinkets. Nobody buys them and nobody cares.” In the early days of Sideshow he staged just such an event, with the title “Merry Peace,” but what he has come to prefer is “an overview – a chance to show what people are doing.”
An estimated crowd of 2,000 attended the opening January 5. Of coure, if each artist attended with a couple of friends it would get up to that number pretty fast. People lined up in the cold half way around the block, and Timperio had to stand out on the pavement, in order to let new people in only after previous guests had left.
The official hours were six to nine PM but the galleries were still crowded at eleven. Timperio’s annual salon has become a New York art world fixture: even its premier fun couple, Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz, were spotted in the line in one recent year.
The hanging is a work of art in itself, a complex checkerboard of paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptural objects. But then, Timperio is himself an artist, and one who has evolved through a variety of personae.. (His own show at Art 101 in Williamsburg was reviewed by artcritical in 2011.)
WhenTimperio arrived in New York in 1970, in his early twenties, from his native Ohio, he designed a pinball machine. This was followed by a sojourn in New Mexico, where he was able to make a living in commercial art (and acquired his trademark cowboy hat). Returning to New York in the later ‘70s he did political caricatures for the New York Times and began to devote more time to his painting.
Starting out in a pop idiom, with special attention to rodeos, Timperio evolved into abstraction when, as he says, “I realized that I was more interested in what the paint was doing than in telling a story.” This was in the early eighties, when he also started to paint on the floor. Dan Christensen, a good friend, was a big influence on his art.
Sideshow had its beginnings in 1995, when the legendary Williamsburg restaurant, Planet Thailand, invited Timperio to hang some art on its walls. In those days, Williamsburg was still a working-class neighborhood where artists found attractive rents. “We would have an opening and you could actually have a dialogue,” Timperio recalls, nostalgically.
But other galleries and young professionals followed the artists, and they, in turn, were followed by edgy boutiques, restaurants and condos: the usual story. Today, a Sotheby’s real estate office shares the block with the cheerfully graffiti-decorated building into which Sideshow moved in 2000, and, grouses Timperio, “Everything costs a fortune.”
Some of the artists showing in this year’s Sideshow Nation are “celebs” like Paul Resika, Bill Jensen, Forrest (“Frosty”) Myers and Dorothea Rockburne. Others are at least as well known for their writing: Robert Morgan, Phong Bui, Mario Naves; or their dealing: Janet Kurnatowski, Pauline Lethen. Some are unknowns and/or friends of artists included in the past, and some are tried and true friends of Timperio’s who have returned year after year.
It’s also a family affair, with brothers Don and Dan Christensen, Ronnie Landfield and son Noah Landfield, husband-and-wife team James Walsh and Ann Walsh, twins Carol Diamond and Cathy Diamond, and Timperio’s own artist-childrenWillie Timperio and Cheyenne Timperio. The younger Timperios both showed abstraction in the past but this year both opted for figuration.
Most of the artists on display are alive, and of all ages, but occasionally room is made for a distinguished deceased. For instance, a lively self-portrait drawing by the late impresario Willoughby Sharp is in the current show, as is a fine small painting by Dan Christensen.
Being a painter himself, Timperio is not overly enthusiastic about conceptual art. “It has to have something you can see,“ he says. He considers the visual “more important than meaning – I’m not big on the word. But I try to keep it as open as possible. I think every generation has something valuable to say.”
Sideshow Nation at Sideshow Gallery through March 24, 319 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, (718) 486-8180