The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 15, 2010


Newbury Street landmark closes after forty-six years


John Baker and Nina Nielsen, former owners of Nielsen Gallery. (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

Art lovers in the Boston area are well acquainted with the Nielsen Gallery at 179 Newbury Street in the Back Bay. For those of us on a day trip into Boston, the gallery, located between Dartmouth and Exeter Streets, has often been at the top of our list of places to go. Now after 46 years in the business, from 1963 until the summer of 2009, Nina Nielsen and her partner and husband John Baker have closed down their gallery.

In a recent interview with the Mosquito, Nielsen, a long-time Carlisle resident, had this to say: “We really are on a sabbatical. We closed down the physical space because we wanted to take a year to decide how to pursue our commitment to art in a new way. I do not believe in retirement and our passion for art will continue throughout our lives.” She added, “The downturn in the economy played a small role in our decision, but it was the time in our lives to move on.”

The primary commitment of Nielsen Gallery was to exhibit and support contemporary artists whose personal visions resisted categorization, including the estates of Porfirio DiDonna, Gregory Gillespie, Harvey Quaytman and Christopher Wilmarth.

In the Boston Globe’s December 30 edition, the gallery was cited for one of the best exhibitions of 2009. This show, “At the Center/In the Eye,” featured the works of three late artists: Martin Ramirez, Porfirio DiDonna and Forrest Bess. Also in 2009, the gallery was recognized by AICA, the international art critics association, with a second place in “Best Show in a Commercial Gallery, Nationally” for its exhibit “Jay DeFeo: Applaud the Black Fact.” Other major exhibitions over the years have included the works of Jackson Pollock, Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley.

Born into a family with a love of art, Gallery Director Nielsen was born in the Bronx, New York. Her family had immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1936. “My family of art collectors, artists and musicians went back several generations,” said Nielsen. “I grew up with art all around. It was a natural thing [to pursue a career in art], just like someone growing up with baseball,” mused Nielsen. In 1960-61 Nielsen spent her junior year abroad, studying art history in Vienna, the experience she credits with introducing her to contemporary art. Upon graduating the next year from Bucknell College, she decided to come to Boston. “‘To follow my bliss’ as Joseph Campbell would say,” said Nielsen. “I realized that art was the medium through which I could pursue meaning in my life,” she added.

In Boston she apprenticed in picture- framing at the Boris Mirski Gallery and worked for six months at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. She started her own frame shop on Newbury Street and in 1963, after paintings were hung on the walls, it became the Nielsen Gallery. As she explained, “Newbury Street was much more laid back at that time. There were always galleries between Dartmouth and Exeter Streets, but that was the only fancy part of the street.” Nielsen also remembered that just around the corner from the gallery was the Exeter Movie Theater, a favorite of Boston movie-goers back then.

“I started out showing prints and drawings of 20th Century artists, French and German: Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Nolde, Klimt,” said Nielsen. “By 1973, I knew people at the Carpenter Center at Harvard who introduced me to more contemporary artists….This is when I became interested in exhibiting and representing artists of my own generation,” said Nielsen. “It was a challenge. Nobody was able to tell me what was good or bad. It didn’t depend on an artist’s reputation, only what was communicated to me in a meaningful way. I picked contemporary artists from the Boston area because that is where we were located. But some of our artists came from other places, like New York City,” she explained.

In 1989, John Baker, who has always been interested in art and knew many of the artists whose works were shown at the gallery, joined Nielsen as a partner. She attributes the variety and strength of the exhibitions since that time to her partnership with Baker.

Artist shares gallery experience

Carlisle residents might remember artist Laurel Hughes whose paintings of chickens were on display at the Gleason Public Library in 2001. Her latest work, “Grace on Water,” was on display at Nielsen Gallery in February and March of 2009. Here is what she had to say about her experience at the gallery – “I am thankful for my time with Nina and John as an artist in their gallery. For 12 years, the exhibitions I shared with them fostered a unique opportunity to unite solitude with solidarity. Quiet leads to activity and then to greater silence; and as I am drawn to the creativity that springs from these quiet moments, being with the Nielsen Gallery allowed me the time and the means to do so, both as a person and a painter. That’s a great gift for a young artist to receive.”

After 46 years, the Nielsen Gallery will be missed but it is time for Nina and John to see where else their love of art will take them. Their website ( is still active and they are still engaged with many of their artists. For now, they have the time to go cross-country skiing in the Estabrook Woods and not feel guilty about planning another trip to Italy for a visit with Nina’s daughter Enole and granddaughter Josephine. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito