A Curator With a 3-D Résumé in Every Room


“I think I’m the opposite of a collector,” Nicholas Baume, the director and chief curator of the nonprofit Public Art Fund in New York, said, chatting in his airy Greenwich Village apartment. “By temperament I’m a minimalist. That said, I have some works of art that mean a lot to me and are emblematic of relationships.”

Mr. Baume, whose Public Art Fund project with Anselm Kiefer just opened at Rockefeller Center, lives with an array of pieces that reflect his career trajectory and collaborations with artists over the years. The most significant of these histories is with Sol LeWitt, the conceptual artist whom the curator first met in 1995 while organizing an exhibition devoted to the collection of John Kaldor for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, where Mr. Baume grew up. LeWitt was instrumental in Mr. Baume’s taking the job of contemporary curator in 1998 at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, where the artist had his own collection on loan.

“Sol gave me these tables, done as prototypes in metal but never produced, as a housewarming present when I moved to Hartford,” Mr. Baume, 52, said of two cube-shaped white side tables. A pale, luminous wall drawing in colored pencil, conceived by LeWitt in 1971 and installed with the permission of the artist’s widow six years ago, extends ceiling to floor on one living room wall. Two gouaches made as holiday gifts and several postcards with drawings by LeWitt reside in Mr. Baume’s bedroom.

“Sol was a very thoughtful guy but a man of few words, and there would never be any writing,” said Mr. Baume, whose dresser display includes postcards embellished by Mel Bochner, Kai Althoff and Tatzu Nishi.

Mr. Baume’s apartment also hosts wall pieces by Sam Durant, Christian Jankowski and Francis Alÿs, all of whom he worked with on exhibitions at the Wadsworth Atheneum; a miniature tabletop sculpture by Carol Bove, (he gave her her first museum show in the United States when he was chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston); and a small stone figure by Ugo Rondinone, resembling the nine he produced at massive scale for Rockefeller Center with the Public Art Fund in 2013.

“The project was the first time he worked with carving and manipulating stone,” Mr. Baume said. “This figure was a lovely surprise birthday present.”

Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How did you originally get interested in art?

I had the good fortune of being exposed as a child to really great contemporary art. By a quirk of fate, I grew up next door to John Kaldor, the most visionary collector of contemporary art in Australia. Our families were close. His house was notorious in the neighborhood for having all this weird stuff in it. I was just in the living room one day and started looking at this Rauschenberg combine piece. I realized it was more than just a tire and a plank of wood. It was an epiphany, really.

It’s only through exposure that you can develop the sensitivity to art. Being involved in public art, I love the idea that it’s making that accessible in a way to people who wouldn’t have the access necessarily.

What was an early acquisition?

In college, I had a part-time job at a gallery in Sydney. One of the gallery artists, Lindy Lee, made this — an appropriated image of Jan van Eyck’s “Man in a Red Turban.” Each panel is the same image but Xeroxed, some to the point of oblivion.



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