In the early 1970s, I was back in L.A. after eleven years in Paris when I happened to come upon a Bruce Nauman exhibition a LACMA. I was already acquainted with the vibrant New York art scene of the late 1940s and early 50s. Later in the 50s I met the L.A. artists of the Ferus Gallery and throughout the 1960s in Paris I was no stranger to the work of Yves Klein. Still it was Bruce Nauman who took my breath away. It was unsettling, but somehow purifying. It laid to rest some of the preconceived notions of my supposedly superior art intelligence. When I joined the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in 1972, ostensibly for a couple of months, I was clean as a whistle thanks to Bruce. I was of course to discover that Nick showed Bruce Nauman. More importantly, he had actually discovered him.
There would be more thrills to come. I marveled at Nick’s love of the orderly in the work of Barnett Newman, John McLaughlin and Agnes Martin against the disarray of his own life. He spoke with eloquence of the importance of art and philosophy, making believers of us all. His years at Amherst and Stamford had served him well. Money played only a minor role in Nick’s life.
Nick Wilder left a void that has never been filled. He was the smartest, most sincere, and the most handsome man I have ever known.
Nick was up the road from me on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles doing largely unheralded but brilliant exhibitions of Graham, Nauman, Hockney and the Color Field spectrum: Noland, Poons, Frankenthaler, Louis, et al. He was adored by his artists largely because he made things work, slender budget or no.
Among the litter of stories: I remember visiting him one evening, just at gallery closing, with the plan to go on to dinner. Nick said, “Why don’t we phone Betty Asher (a passionate collector as well as a dear friend of both of ours) and ask her to join us?” Betty begged off because of a Women’s Heightened Consciousness meeting held at her home that very evening. Nick, not to be daunted, drove us both to his apartment, opened a super large closet door and lo and behold, a treasure trove of lady’s garments – caftans, ball gowns, wigs and shoes.
Nick carefully dressed us and beautifully made us up – you have never seen two more glamorous gals! We quickly drove to Betty’s house in West L.A. We were let in to hoots and howls and, needless to say, they moved right along to refreshments, skipping whatever was so urgent on their agenda.
Nick Wilder brought taste, skill, charm and keen intelligence to bear on a receptive art world, and that world is dimmer without him.
BILLY AL BENGSTON
WALTER DE MARIA