Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

Civic Entrepreneur: Artist and Dealer Richard Timperio, 1946-2018

Richard Timperio in his studio, 2015. Photo: Paul Behnke
Richard Timperio in his studio, 2015. Photo: Paul Behnke

It is not every art dealer who calls forth the kind of widespread, genuinely personal mourning that greeted the demise of Richard Timperio this weekend. Even less often is it artists leading the charge, as the latter usually look upon dealers as business associates more than friends. But Timperio was no ordinary art dealer. A better-than-average painter himself, he was also a community leader: The mammoth “Sideshow Nation” exhibition staged annually at the eponymous Sideshow gallery in Williamsburg, with literally hundreds of participants, was as much (if not more) a civic enterprise as it was a venture in high-risk capitalism.

Timperio suffered a massive stroke last week while visiting friends in upstate New York, and had to be rushed to the Albany Medical Center. He died on Sunday, September 9, at the age of just 71. He is survived by his daughter Cheyenne and his son Willy—the children of his former companion, Elspeth Leacock. Expressions of grief from an unusually wide range of people in the art world continue to pile up on Facebook.

Richard Timperio at the opening of Sideshow Nation. Photo: Patricia Fabricant
Richard Timperio at the opening of Nation III Circle the Wagons, at Sideshow, 2015. Photo: Vincent Romaniello

A native of Ohio, Timperio arrived in New York in 1970 with dreams of becoming an artist, although his first foray was the design for a pinball machine. Relocating to New Mexico, he found he was able to make a living in commercial art. (It was in the south-west that he acquired his trademark black cowboy hat – as much a part of his latter-day persona as his wavy, shoulder-length iron gray hair, his genial smile and his booming laugh). Before long, he headed back to the Big Apple, where he graduated to political caricatures for The New York Times and began to paint in earnest – initially within the sphere of pop, evolving into abstraction in the early 1980s. His first abstract pictures were heavily laden with paint and employed organic forms, but this gave way to the thinner paint application and gently geometric shapes that define his mature style. His last show, in 2015, was at André Zarre in Chelsea.

Timperio’s “day job,” Sideshow, originated in 1995 when a Thai restaurant in Williamsburg invited him to hang some art on its walls. In those days, the neighborhood was still working-class, with rents that appealed to artists, and subsequently to galleries. Williamsburg is now gentrified almost beyond recognition, but it still appeals to a younger and more progressive demographic, to whom Sideshow’s annual extravaganzas appeal which makes sense since they were originally titled “Merrie Peace” and were anti-war shows.

It’s been so long since I first saw Timperio’s spectaculars that I’m not sure who introduced me to them. Most likely it was Sasha Silverstein, a subscriber to my blog, (An Appropriate Distance) From the Mayor’s Doorstep (FMD), who exhibited her impressionist figure studies and landscapes in these shows, . Since I try to review work by my subscribers, I beat feet to this group show and and was pleasantly surprised to find work by many other artists whom I admire: Larry Poons and his wife, Paula De Luccia, Dan Christensen, Randy Bloom, Francine Tint, Jim and Ann Walsh, Lauren Olitski, and Peter Reginato, among others. Ever since, I have devoted much space to reviewing these shows in FMD.

Still, I don’t think I’m unique. Nobody who visited these sprawling “Sideshow Nation” shows could forget the hundreds of artworks mounted together, from the baseboards to the ceilings. Paintings, drawings, prints, collages, and photographs provided the two-dimensional experience, while assemblages, kinetic art and more conventional carved or modeled sculpture extended the panorama to the third dimension. Fans like myself of high quality abstraction found these shows wonderfully rewarding, but representational work – like that of Silverstein — was well-represented, too. And although Timperio favored “something to see” in his own artwork, the shows had at least a modest quotient of conceptual and other “edgy” but less purely visual art.

Above all, it was the spirit in which these “Sideshow Nation” exhibitions were mounted that made them so distinctive. They were somehow cooperative in spirit, with famous artists jostling modest ones who practically never exhibited. Husbands and wives, parents and children, and siblings all exhibited together. Artists best known as artists cozily shared wall space with artists best known as critics or even artists best known as dealers. Indeed, these multi-faceted shows were more than merely art shows: they were the joint creation of a whole community, a Sideshow “nation” indeed.

Richard Timperio during installation of an exhibition of Louise P. Sloane. Photo: Debra Drexler
Richard Timperio receiving a work by Debra Drexler for Sideshow Nation, during a 2017 exhibition at Sideshow of Louise P. Sloane. Photo: Debra Drexler