In conversation with

Andrew nunes

Image: Andrew Nunes

Image: Andrew Nunes

For the record – what is a freeport?

A freeport is a climate-controlled storage facility that has no transparency because it’s in a country or economic zone that honors a certain type of privacy law, but most importantly it’s in a territory that’s tax-free. Since they’ve been around, they’ve been a good place to store important goods. There’s a lot of very, very nice wine, for example, and more recently people have been storing high-end cars and things of that ilk.

But what’s been happening for quite some time now is that people have been putting their art collections in freeports, because you can buy something at auction and directly transport it there without paying the import taxes that would be incurred if you actually wanted to hang it up in your house and then sell it. This way it literally just becomes an asset, without even the illusion of another purpose. No one can see it except for the owner when they are at facility. If they have someone who is interested in buying it, they can go check it out. But no one else, really. It’s not going to be shown in any museum collections, because the moment it leaves the freeport, it leaves the tax-free haven and you’ll have to pay the duties.

That being said, you can’t fully know what’s going on there, though somehow the New York Times found out that there’s an estimated thousand Picassos in one freeport. That’s a substantial amount of artwork from one artist deemed culturally notorious. What fascinated me about it is this idea that once you reach a certain level of success, you have a higher likelihood of being hidden from the public eye, a higher likelihood of your works no longer being appreciated by people. It’s kind of like an inverse scale: you’re getting successful, you’re making a lot of money – but there's almost an invisible line you cross where all the sudden you’re getting even more successful and your artworks become more and more like stocks, immaterial assets hidden from the public eye.

Something about it seems weird. Should you want to limit your success if you believe in the power of your work?


Have you put yourself in the digital freeport you created for your performance?

It focused on emulating the types of artist that would be in a freeport.

Photo: Jonno Rattman

Photo: Jonno Rattman


Right, but have you snuck in an Andrew Nunes original?

That’s what I’m saying. To keep that part legitimate, I didn’t put my own artworks in it. I mean it would be funny, because based on my limited number of realized artworks, I’d end up having to put another institutional critique-style artwork into the actual thing. But no, I didn’t do that. That’s the kind of thing that would be good media fodder, right? Like oh, he also put his own artwork in there, what a subversive twist, blah blah.

The freeport project is more journalistic. There’s a whole slew of articles – not super common, but maybe three or four a year, in a variety of publications talking about some new development within freeport culture. A big one was when Yves Bouvier, a man heavily involved Geneva freeport, had some scam where he fucked over a Russian oligarch and effectively used the billions he scammed to expand his other freeports. Reporting on freeports looks mostly like rich people infighting. That’s what gets reported on the most, besides that one article in the New York Times that was investigating it a little bit further.

This phenomenon is discussed a little bit, but not a whole lot. Some people are aware of it through these articles, but it ultimately doesn’t affect most people, right? Basically, you have to be so successful that your art is going to be inside of a freeport for my project to matter. And if anything I was on the opposite spectrum of that. I have no collectors. So I started from the backwards in: if you reach the pinnacle of success, which for a lot of people means you’re selling really well, you can live a life just as an artist. And the more successful you are, the higher likelihood you have of ending up in a freeport.

Image: Andrew Nunes

Image: Andrew Nunes

As part of the month-long performance, you explain the freeport process to visitors and set them up with sheltered artworks of their own in an office setting. What has that experience been like for you?

Well, it was very strange to have my first real show and opening be conducted entirely under the guise of a performance. I was pretty much sitting down the entire time, not able to socialize with people, sort of skipping the whole networking part of an opening. Usually, you’d make contact with people, you’d meet people’s friends, maybe you go out for drinks afterwards. Instead I was basically working the entire time, and because I’m in a performance character, I’m also not even getting to talk to my friends and thank them for coming. The interaction was all based on the work.

It’s almost like I didn’t get to experience my opening. I just ended up performing for one person after another the entire time until thirty minutes after. Performance work is such a different beast than showing your work – instead of making something you’re embodying something to get an idea across. In this case, it’s something that doesn’t affect most people, even in the art world. This is something that’s entirely legal. Freeports don’t directly affect most people. You can still see a Picasso even though there’s so many hidden.

But in a world where artists are able to entirely live off what they make, they need collectors, they need patrons. I think a lot of people have gone into it with hopes that they’ll be part of a boom. There are artists like Lucien Smith who was I don’t know how old – twenty-three? – when his works started selling for hundreds of thousands, fresh out of school. That’s a reality that affects so few people. But whether other artists will admit it or not, a lot of people do want to sell really well. They want to live off their artworks. But this – ending up in a freeport – will be the end result if their dream is fulfilled with maximum efficacy.


It’s a kind of perverse after-affect – a necessary remainder of the whole process.

Yes. In my opinion, most artists want some degree of success. They want to find a way to use their intelligence or their abilities to game the system in their favor. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m a stark advocate against ideas of “artist-as-genius” or some sort of benevolent cultural medium who is so much higher-in-tune with the world. I don’t think it’s healthy to assume the artist is some sort of cultural martyr whose sole purpose is to spread a message to the world, that they aren’t doing it for their own reasons as well.


If they weren’t, that would probably result in a different set of observable behaviors.

Right – people get so intrigued, like how does an artist’s day to day life go? You have to understand, I’m sometimes curious about those things too, but often the reality is that different artists have a variety of nuances that anyone in any field would have. Very rarely, I think, do people have some kind of special thing. That’s difficult for people to accept because they want to believe that there’s some special something that’s prohibiting them from making a jump in succes to wherever it is they want to be, in whatever field they are in.

Image: Andrew Nunes

Image: Andrew Nunes

Shifting gears to you: you grew up in Massachusetts and Brazil, but you knew you wanted to come to New York for college. Why did you want to come to New York?

Well, there’s two parts to the answer. First, while I was in Brazil, Facebook was in its prime in the U.S. 2008-2010. I would go down the social media holes of people’s lives back home in Boston. In Brazil, people weren’t using Facebook yet, they were using this other social media platform called Orkut, some really, really bad Google one that failed.


Right. Google almost had the original social media network.

Yeah! It was before Facebook.


They screwed up.

Well, it worked out in two countries – Brazil and India only. Two of the BRICs. But basically I would look into the lives of people who I found really interesting in my high school. They had already graduated by that point – they were four or five years older. There was one that I thought was a particularly interesting person. I was so fascinated by their life, and they had opted to go to NYU. So that was one of the reasons I was so keen on NYU in particular, and I took early decision. I never really found out if I could have gotten into a better school or a school in the Ivy League, if that was even a possibility. I don’t know what could have happened. I was so fixated because of this person and also because of the idea of NYC.


Did you meet this person?



What was the idea of NYC?

I had been here before. This was before Brooklyn and Williamsburg really took off, when your average tourist would most likely just visit Manhattan. If you’re a well-researched traveler and you wanted to experience the whole thing, you might go to something specific in Brooklyn or Queens and do that as well. But my immigrant parents were more of a standard style of tourist, so they weren’t going to go that deep necessarily. So we went to Manhattan, to Rockefeller Plaza, that kind of thing, Times Square. So I had an idea of Manhattan: tall buildings, surrounded by people and activity. I like being inundated by people. You know, people that have lived here for a bit always say things like, “I want to live on a quieter street and avoid the overstimulation when I can.” But I’ve often lived and have been most happy when I’ve lived on a busier street.

Image: Andrew Nunes

Image: Andrew Nunes

Where do you live now?

Now I don’t live on a busier street. I live on the Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy. The Hasidic part. But I’ve lived before on Bedford Avenue and on the intersection of Allen and Delancey on the Lower East Side where action was everywhere.

When I first moved here, I didn’t know that so much of the housing situation had shifted, where if you want to not live in a closet and don’t have $3000 a month to spend on rent,  you live in Brooklyn, or Queens, or the Bronx. This whole Manhattan dream died out, or at least the downtown dream did. And what’s funny is I got to keep the illusion for a year when I first got to NYU, where you’re made to stay in a dorm. I was right off Washington Square Park. It was something I got to experience for just one year, besides the time I lived in a closet in the Lower East Side. It was the most fulfilling living experience I’ve ever had, and I grew up across ten cities on two continents.

So, I wanted to be in New York. To be in Manhattan. To have this overabundance of people. To have this literal concreteness. I’m not a big nature person. I just wanted that sort of real artificial city-ness, and that’s why I’m sort of sad that it’s not easy to have a nice space in prime Manhattan. Especially because a lot of the things I do are freelance, I only ever really come to Manhattan with an intention, to run an errand or meet someone, grab a cup of coffee, that sort of thing. It’s not like I’m coming in everyday for work. These days all I get to have are glimpses of the city.

I crave that 70s to 90s New York – not the gritty realness bullshit, because glorifying crime with nostalgia goggles is dumb, but that you could be in something so man-made, something way too human and urban... it’s sad that that’s not so much a reality for most people. That’s what drew me – the ability to be in something that’s pure city.


Last question: have you been to Staten Island?

Not recently, but yeah. I think it was a school trip. Or, no, maybe it was the island next to it. When I was apartment hunting I was looking at the borough. You can get full-on homes out there, the prices…