APIECE APART WOMAN
“It’s all the same, art and beauty,” Danielle Nieciag says. As the Director of Institutional Advancement at Austin’s Contemporary Art Museum, the words take on a particular weight, a different meaning than they do to most. For her, they are a life’s work…an obsession.
Before coming to Austin, Danielle worked alongside the renowned Madrid curator Carmen Gimenez at the Guggenheim, and has spent much of her life a friend to the road (she wears a wrist full of bracelets that serve as a roadmap for the places she’s been; each has a story attached and most a regional superstition about why it can never be removed). Danielle also has a certain elegance we suspect comes from living on your own terms, plunging forward into whatever (or wherever) life throws at you, and bringing your cumulative experiences with you. From the definition of “seeing” to having snacks for dinner, a range of ideas below from our visit to Danielle’s Austin home.
Can you share more about your upbringing and childhood?
I feel like I grew up in a John Hughes movie, in the northern Chicago suburbs, with white picket fences and the whole bit. My family was also very fortunate to travel extensively—they called us “the gypsy family.” We were always on the go…so traveling has always fed me on a million sensory levels. Also, my wonderful parents loved art, museums, and American craft and it was always present in our day to day lives.
You’re a very private person, abstaining from social media and keeping your personal life very much offline. What goes into these choices?
I think visibility and social media are necessary for any business these days so no judgement but yes, I’m in a public job and like a pretty private life. It almost seems nothing is sacred anymore, all this online access feels like it’s reducing some kind of ‘specialness.’ People are really busy proving they’re cool or showing themselves seeing/doing beautiful things rather than just enjoying and absorbing the moment.
Art and beauty. How does your work influence the way you see the world?
I was already a bit of a sponge for visual details, but got lucky enough to work for Carmen Gimenez. She really gave art/beauty structure and meaning… she framed the way I ‘see’ the world.
It’s all the same, art and beauty. Beauty doesn’t have to be pretty, nor does art, and you can find it everywhere; rust can be very beautiful. Beauty, art, and everything really, is contextualized in a delicate balance. It’s not just a great painting, it’s a great painting hung in the perfect room, at the right height, in conversation with the right other paintings and so on. It can also work in reverse, a beautiful thing in the wrong setting can seem less so. Maddening but pretty wonderful.
Do you have trouble turning off work?
I suck at this. My work with the museum includes many nights and weekends. The only advice I have is to find your tribe, whoever they may be: laugh with them, eat with them, drink with them.
Can you share a favorite quotation, lyric, or line from a book that has stuck with you?
“Be like water” –Lao Tzu. It reminds me that getting a "no" can often be a great opportunity. Water always finds a place to go.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Never entertain a criticism or a compliment from someone you don’t respect.
Something that is overrated.
Something that is underrated.
Sleep and sun.
What do you make for dinner by yourself?
When solo, I keep it pretty easy, essentially grazing on cheese, charcuterie, roasted veggies, pretzels. In my world, cooking only happens for others.
What do you make when you are entertaining?
I try to keep it simple and never too serious…really good comfort food. Nan Kempner famously had a standing spaghetti and meatball night dinner on Sundays. Also, living overseas for so long really makes you focus on the quality and simplicity of ingredients, and being at ease when entertaining. I believe that everyone, including the host, should be enjoying themselves.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
It sounds wildly cliché, but…life is incredibly short, and I've seen first hand how it can change in an instant. The happiest people I know have lived their lives with no regrets. Laugh, love, travel, leap, and live as much as you can.
Photography by ALYSON FOX | Styling by ALEXA HOTZ | Story by LEIGH PATTERSON