Kim Nye bought an old hardware store on Uncas avenue in Oak Bluffs back in 2000, with an eye to opening an art gallery. She renovated it the following year but waited until now, a likely recession period, to open the gallery.
“It’s a bold move, but whatever’s going on in the world, art transcends that. It’s more special in times of strife,” she said earlier this week, hovering by entrance of the gallery between phone calls, a little after 8 a.m. She had worked until after midnight the previous evening and fielded a call from an anxious artist in the early hours of the morning. “It’s pre-show nerves, it’s exactly like preparing for a fashion show,” said Miss Nye, who worked in the fashion industry for 14 years including time as a top model for Ralph Lauren.
“I always had a passive interest in art, particularly photography, and was exposed to a lot traveling so much. Now I’m taking an active interest,” she said. “To become an art dealer you just phone up the IRS.”
The gallery is two large rooms, with wooden walls painted white, lines of halogen light bulbs, steel beams and plush white sofas. The serving counter by the entrance is made from recycled New Bedford factory floor wood. It looks pretty swanky.
“I want it to look cool,” she said with a tired chuckle.
The gallery is initially showing the work of just two Vineyard artists: Rez Williams and Enos Ray, who are both now exhibiting exclusively with Miss Nye. Mr. Williams is a well-established artist who does large oil canvas paintings of local working boats. Earlier this week the back room of the gallery was ringed by his unhung canvases, some of which stretch to over six feet.
Miss Nye rates Mr. Ray, meanwhile, as a find. Mr. Ray, who calls himself a street artist, paints scenes from his North Virginia upbringing and portraits of gospel singers and jazz musicians. Miss Nye stumbled upon his work in a Vineyard deli.
“I was shocked and asked, “Who is this guy?’ ” she said. “He has caches all around the Island. I went around bringing them all together.
“Always want to have less than a handful of artists, the space is good for large scale paintings.”
She plans to hang the work of the two artists on an ongoing basis. Meanwhile, she will look to bring in other painting and photography while keeping things small.
For Mr. Williams the gallery couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I was standing in the Alley’s parking lot on a dreary May day talking to Enos Ray,” he said, “I was ranting and raving about the dreadful day and being depressed. He told me about the gallery.” They went to Oak Bluffs that afternoon and Mr. Williams signed up soon afterwards.
“For the past few years I was watching the Vineyard art community descend into a Provincetown mishmash.” Mr. Williams said. He explained that because of the short season on the Vineyard, galleries can be forced into displaying a wide cross-section of work together in order to make sales for the year. He was attracted to the contrast of Miss Nye’s approach to making a commitment to certain artists and maintaining an exclusivity.
“I’d been dreaming of a place like this but I never thought we’d see it on the Vineyard,” Mr. Williams said, “It’s just like a Chelsea gallery. She’s doing everything right.”
Miss Nye first came to the Vineyard after a spur of the moment decision at a Manhattan fashion party in 1991. She and a friend, whose brother had an empty house, drove through the night to catch the morning ferry. They spent the next five days holed up during Hurricane Bob with little food and no running water. “It was like Withnail And I,” she said, “My friend Deborah was trying to heat up some Dunkin’ Donuts she found in the car when the phone was disconnected.”
Even so, Miss Nye began coming every summer, spending longer and longer stretches. “I was starting to make excuses to stay here,” she said. “After 9/11 I left and said I’m never coming back.”
Nye Gallery celebrates with a grand opening reception Saturday, July 5, from 7 to 10 p.m. at 8 Uncas avenue in Oak Bluffs. All are welcome.