‘Why don’t we have one spaghetti? I’ll have one side and you have the other,’ jokes Nick Buckley Wood, Asia Director of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. He started with one end, and I took the other, slowly inching closer into a... hysterical fit of laughter.
This is a quintessentially Nick Buckley Wood moment.
I sat down with the illustrious Nick at LUMI, the borderless restaurant concept at Pacific Place. I’ve known him from parties, art openings, gallery dinners and his manic travel schedule on Instagram, but rarely have I had the opportunity to get a tête-à-tête (although with him standing at an impressive 193cm tall, it’s really more of a tête-a-chest) with him. He’s always come across as charismatic and fun. But I wanted to discover his more private side, away from art fair booths and flashy dinners and fancy-dress parties.
Having quickly ordered, we get chatting about his recent travels and discoveries. I learn that he’s taken 16 flights since the start of the year and is both exhilarated and exhausted. Then the first dish comes: the Shabu Shabu Wagyu Salad with White Sesame Ginger Sauce. With familiarity, we both greedily dig in. ‘This is DELICIOUS!’ we exclaim, and take a moment to enjoy the marinated beef delicately coated with sesame sauce. Still relishing the last bite, Nick slowly segues, ‘This is the thing about food, art and travel. You transcend your existing frame of reference, and have access to understanding different cultures and places. We’re privileged in being able to enter different worlds, and see how people are the way they are and at the same time how everyone is also basically the same.’
Nick indulges in the Spaghettini Glacier, a fusion of Italian and Japanese with shaved asparagus, spinach, chicken broth ice, Hokkaido sea urchin and onsen egg
To Nick, a great life is a life lived with great stories to tell, and great art is the same, it tells the big stories of humankind, captured forever. We both express our gratitude for working so closely to the great stories that art contains. He admits, ‘I always wanted to be in art. I’m very lucky to have found the galleries that I’ve worked for, which have always had a similar outlook on the field. I grew up in two different places with two different backgrounds, which was challenging at times, and I think art has helped to make the world a smaller place. People can hear and see stories of people from differing backgrounds and places in the world. People can learn from each other and it opens our minds — it builds empathy.’
Two places come to Nick’s mind as examples of great lives lived and stories told: Peggy Guggenheim, through her museum in Venice; and Henry Frick, founder of the Frick Collection in New York, who both opened up their private collections to the world after their passing. In these instances, the intimate stories of a person, their living spaces, their tastes, their domestic habits, are vulnerably presented to the world. In a day and age when art is usually experienced through the vehicle of a white-cube gallery or a museum, I was touched by this alternative presentation of art, one inextricably intertwined with the life of a person. This humanises both the artwork and the collector, and helps us imagine stories of friendship and conversations between the owner of the artwork and the artist. Like going into a restaurant and experiencing the creations of the chef, it’s a lifetime of knowledge and craft in every bite. What travels, what encounters was Kihachi Kumagai of LUMI recounting through his dishes? What travels are contained in the Spaghettini Glacier, with its marks of Japanese minimalism and Italian comfort cuisine?