Leonard Nimoy, Photographer, Art Collector, and Beloved Star Trek Actor, Dead at 83
The actor studied photography with Robert Heinecken.
Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Mister Spock on the cult favorite television show Star Trek, has died at age 83 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Nimoy was a photographer, poet, art collector, and musician, as well as an actor. He became fascinated with photography when he was 13 and went on to study with the photographer Robert Heinecken at UCLA (Heinecken was the subject of a solo show last year at New York’s Museum of Modern Art). His work is represented in various collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Bakersfield Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and New York’s Jewish Museum. He also published several books of photography, including The Full Body Project (2007) and Shekhina (2005).
He was also a beloved patron of the arts, having donated to Asia Society Museum and the Hammer Museum, as well as other museums on the east and west coasts.
“Leonard Nimoy was everything you would imagine him to be—kind, moral, wise, loyal, and profoundly generous of spirit,” Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, told artnet News in an email. “He truly loved the arts—all of them—but he followed theater and the visual arts with a particular passion and knowledge. He and [his wife] Susan have been great philanthropists for many causes but we were truly lucky at the Hammer to have their friendship and support over the years. We will all miss him terribly.”
Richard Michelson, his Northampton, Massachusetts, dealer pointed out that he supported exhibitions of young and challenging photographers at various museums with funding from his eponymous foundation.
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Adams, Massachusetts, mounted an exhibition of his photography, “Leonard Nimoy: Secret Selves,” in 2010–2011, a show of 26 color photos, 11 of which were life-size. It was Nimoy’s first solo museum show. Associated so closely with Mister Spock, Nimoy was intrigued with the notion of alternate identities, and invited volunteers from nearby Northampton to “reveal their secret selves” on film. The concept was fueled by Plato’s “Symposium,” which imagined the original humans were dual creatures then split into two by the gods. In another series, the “Full Body Project,” Nimoy photographed full-bodied women in the nude.
In the catalogue, MASS MoCA director Joseph Thompson wrote that the photographs reminded him of “caryatids—columns that cross-dress as figural sculpture.”
Thompson learned about the project from Nimoy’s local representative, R. Michelson Gallery. “We asked if he was game and suddenly we had a show on our hands,” Thompson told artnet News on the phone on Friday, “and a very rewarding one because a lot of the art we show comes in from New York or Tokyo or LA, and in this case it was all about locals. The locals were the experts, since everyone knew the people on the walls.”
Nimoy had a gift for drawing out his portrait subjects, Thompson said. “People dropped all pretense and exposed their intimate selves to him immediately. They were often brief encounters, five or 10 minutes, in which he learned a stunning amount about his subjects.”
“For a MASS MoCA fundraiser, he donated the opportunity to be photographed by him,” Thompson added. “I won’t name the woman who won it because she might be embarrassed. When we told him who it was, he said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I know her! She’s a longtime Spock fan and she’s been sending me letters for 30 years. I can’t believe I’m going to get to meet her!’”
Nimoy’s final tweet, from five days ago, reads:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.”
LLAP is an acronym for Spock’s motto Live long and prosper.
Follow artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.