Oh, and One More Thing…
Talking to Judy Nyquist About Her Collection of Text-Based Works
Judy Nyquist has a passion for art and artists. A former museum curator with an MA in art history, Nyquist is an exceptionally well-informed collector. The mother of three is also intimately involved with Houston’s cultural landscape. Nyquist serves on the boards of the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, the Blaffer Gallery, the Houston Seminar, the Houston Arts Alliance, the Glassell School Core and Executive Committees, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Art LiesHope Stone Dance, Rice University Art Committee and, among others, Glasstire. In Nyquist’s collection, internationally known artists like Cornelia Parker, Andy Warhol, Nina Bovasso and Adam Pendleton mingle with the works of well known local artists like Joe Havel, Demetrius Oliver (formerly local), Aaron Parazette, Greg Donner and Rachel Hecker.
Having visited Nyquist’s collection on several occasions, I remain fascinated by the text-based works. I began my interview as she was unpacking a new drawing by Ed Ruscha, Oh, and one more thing…, a birthday gift from her husband Scott. Ruscha is one of the artists on Nyquist’s “wish list” and the never-been-shown work was fresh from the artist’s studio.
SD: Words appear as central themes in many of the key works in your collection. I like the potential this has; adding text can open up a whole new set of possibilities to a work’s meaning and interpretation. It’s like adding sound to a sculpture. Tell me about your connection to text-based works.
JN: I haven’t deliberately sought out text-based works—that is to say that we do not consider the use of text a necessity for acquiring a work of art. Text appeals to me on many levels; meanings of words are open to interpretation…particularly fragments of sentences and thoughts. There is also often humor involved with text, which really resonates with us. Of course, language is one of the fundamental ways that humans communicate, so it is familiar but provocative at the same time. I also love the purely graphic quality of type…I think that in many ways I am a frustrated graphic designer!
SD: I really like the work of Cornelia Parker, but I never associate her sculpture and installation work with text. However, you have managed to find one of hers with a text component. Is this part of what drew you to this particular work of hers?
JN: The Cornelia Parker Alter Ego appeals to me on many levels. I have admired Parker’s work for many years. I love the delicacy of the suspended presentation versus the weight of the silver materials. I admire the timelessness of the imagery, the craftsmanship of the pieces and the message of history. Of course, the beauty of the graphic element of the inscribed text on the crushed “shadow” is very appealing and mysterious.
Having lived in London for many years, I am quite familiar with such commemorative objects, which are displayed in historical museums, Guild Halls and people’s homes. I am thrilled to have my own “faux” antique trophy, which is in fact a conceptual work of art!
SD: When exploring your home and looking at the way you combine your art collection with decorative and functional domestic objects, it’s apparent there is this very personal interaction you have with the art works and with the way that you arrange them. At moments, the art works blur with these other things, and vice versa. For example, Cornelia Parker’s Alter Ego is installed floating above an empty roll-top desk.
JN: Well, yes, I am a curator by training and this is the business of curating—the practice of combining disparate objects into a thematic arrangement or narrative in order to give the viewer a new context to appreciate and explore. In the example of the roll-top desk, it is a rather ordinary piece of early 20th century brown furniture owned by Scott’s grandfather. It has great sentimental value for him. The dark, clumsy wood desk provides an appealing contrast to the Parker—both literally and figuratively. There are many such juxtapositions in the collection.
SD: How did you decide the placement of the impressive work by Adam Pendleton? What’s it like for you and your family to live with the work? Does the meaning of it change day to day?
JN: The Adam Pendelton text is taken from Toni Morrison’s book Jazz published in 1992. The text of the book is unusual in that it is written in a manner that visually and audibly mimics jazz music. Jazz is the story of a husband and wife living in Harlem in the 1920s. They have been together for a long time, but have recently suffered an emotional separation due to an indiscretion and murder on the part of the husband.
It is a moving quote which initially appears to be gibberish because the breaks in the text are not where words start and stop. It requires concentration and determination to decipher the beautiful and intimate words.
While the piece is very intimately charged in its sentiments, it can be appreciated also as a graphic, which also attracted me to the piece. The blue color of the text was a special request to the artist, as it was originally designed as a gray graphic. As far as placement is concerned, I played with the idea of installing the work in a more private area of the house due to the subject matter. But in the end, the area above the bay window, typically an unused space in most homes, was the perfect spot. It is almost universally commented on by visitors. Who would have known?
I don’t believe that the meaning changes, but each individual who takes the time to decipher the poem takes something different away, as they associate and identify in their own personal manner with the sentiment expressed. But again, all good art is this personal.
SD: You mentioned a wish list to me earlier.
JN: Of course I have an ever-enlarging wish list. Many things are real stretches, but my feeling is that we are only stewards of works of art anyway—it is a wonderful privilege and responsibility to live with these things and hopefully someone else will be equally interested in being their companions in the future.
SD: What are you working on now?
JN: I am involved in many art institutions and philanthropic causes in Houston. It is my passion, and I am lucky to have the support of my family and friends to pursue these interests. I have developed a particular love and interest for contemporary art. I feel that artists are geniuses and that their voices are so valuable to our society. I am continually inspired by the artists I have the privilege of meeting, particularly young people—and their work—holds so much meaning for me. My children have also benefited greatly from our relationships with artists. Hopefully I can assist artists by creating opportunities for them as a volunteer in several art organizations.
Dela is an artist and writer living in Houston.