Shop Talk

Tony Shu of Tishu Gallery

As told to Sarah Horne Grose
November 8, 2017

The decidedly anti-minimalist Collective dealer on finding the beauty in the used—and the thrill of the hunt

I didn’t get my start in the fine art or design world. I was actually a trained neuro-pathologist. Around 12 years ago, I quit my job. You wind up in a profession with so many years of training and school, and you take it as far as you can take it. But I would wake up and think, you only have one life to live…maybe I should try something else.

At first, my partner and I were only doing fine art, in Boston. We collected contemporary Aboriginal art from Australia. In the ‘80s I had taken a trip to the Northern Territory of Australia. We love traveling, we like adventures. So it’s the perfect combo—you take single engine aircraft to a remote island to buy art; we would look down from the air at the salt water crocodiles. That was the beginning. We also started to collect midcentury design pieces for our house. Gradually that interest grew. It’s like fate leads you, one thing after the next. You can’t really plan.

We do many things: I love Asian pieces, tribal art, textiles, I don’t have a minimalist aesthetic. I don’t like a white box. I like a place where there’s evidence of living, not something where it just looks like a beautiful hotel room. If you come to my home, it’s like a functional gallery where we just use the furniture. It’s made to be used. It’s not made to be put on a pedestal. That’s the beauty of it. I deal with designers and collectors and sometimes designers care too much about condition, but a lot of time we don’t restore things because the very patina a piece has is part of the beauty. We try not to restore it to the point where we’d get rid of patina.

Tishu Gallery in Miami. Photograph by Tony Shu
Tishu Gallery in Miami. Photograph by Tony Shu

I love Asian pieces, tribal art, textiles. I don’t have a minimalist aesthetic.

We travel frequently through Mexico and Central America. We’ve found a place we actually love, in San Miguel de Allende. It’s a 15th century town, set high on the plateau, and it attracts artists and writers and anyone who is looking for something authentic—creative types. And while I don’t go there to work, per se, of course it expanded my interest in Spanish colonial pieces. It can all work together in the right hands.

We settled down in Miami two years ago and we bought a new building here. I don’t buy with the local market in mind. Nowadays, as a dealer, your pieces go all over the world. I don’t even observe regular hours. We have a beautiful space near the MOCA museum, but I don’t really go into from, say, 9 to 4. Our clients are, generally, not local; being a dealer really has changed. The internet business has really taken over from the walk-in business. People have no problem buying pieces from photography or on video…we ship to Japan, Singapore, Australia, and where we are physically located is not that significant. Not anymore.

Photograph by Tony Shu
Photograph by Tony Shu