Artist Peter Tunney Gets Out of His Own Way & Wows the World Again

A lot of folks have the gift of gab. Hell, in Miami, where everybody and their mother, father, brother, and sister are trying to sell you a bill of goods, the gift of gab is pretty much a prerequisite. But nattering on at will is one thing. Being able to actually say something, well, that’s another story altogether. Such is the case with pop artist Peter Tunney, who can talk a mean blue streak around just about anyone while also making a real point. It’s little wonder that the bulk of Tunney’s work involves words – it’s even less a wonder that those words tend to assemble into messages. At The Eden Roc last week, on the eve of the opening of their swank restaurant 1500°, I caught Tunney creating another one of his infamous, massive collages, this one affixed to the entire stretch of wall leading into the eatery’s entrance. From the get he was off and running, and had I not been there to witness it myself, I would’ve never believed there was a fast-talking cat who could give even loudmouth me a run for my money.

Make that his money, which he calls, naturally, Tunney Money. It’s a concept Peter’s been thinking about for some time. Unlike most currencies, there’s an actual guarantee.

“Here’s my thought,” says Tunney. “If you take a thousand dollars in cash and put it under your mattress, in, say, 20 years its buying power is 50 cents on the dollar — max. But the value of Tunney money goes up! I even put it in writing.”

In fact, my accomplice on this day, Crobar Worldwide co-chief Ken Smith, who was once Peter’s de facto landlord, told me Tunney racked up quite a considerable tab at the corner bodega when he was living in Crobar New York. It’s a bet that the store’s proprietors wouldn’t have accepted Tunney Money if they didn’t see some value in it.

I tell Peter I sense a little Yves Klein in his making of currency, and he concurs. “It’s got a little Yves Klein, a little Duchamp, a little Warhol, because that’s who I’m made of,” he tells me. And when I turn to the collages and say I sense a little Ruscha, he’s right there with personal evidence to support my theory.

“Funny you should mention it,” says Peter, as he whips out a copy of A Beautiful World. “There’s a photo of me and Ed Ruscha right in the front of my book!”

Indeed there is. And if it’s odd seeing a photograph where Peter is the one not holding a cocktail, well, you could say he’s had his share. Now he’s on to other, more sober, things.

“I haven’t had a drink or a drug in many years now. In fact, Crobar was the end. I spent 10 years with Peter Beard followed by one year straight in Crobar. And 20 years before that on my own — and I was pretty busy then! That’s enough. I got my share. Here’s how I tell my story now: ‘I went to a party when I was 13, and when I left I was 43.'”

But did the man who once roamed the world with Peter Beard really live in Crobar for 40 days and 40 nights?

“That’s completely untrue,” he corrects me. “I originally went in there, against everybody’s will, and when they asked me how long I was planning to stay I said ’45 days. I want to break David Blaine’s record of 44 days in a box.’ I just said that. It didn’t really mean anything. Three-hundred and twenty-one days later I checked out of Crobar.”

When Tunney was ensconced in his Room on the premises, Crobar was the place to be in New York City.

“The context of that Room at Crobar is very interesting,” he explains. “It was the first big club that everyone went to in, like, 25 years. Before Crobar you went to Lotus or Bungalow. That’s it. There was no place else to go. After Crobar opened you had 5000 people on the street and 5000 people inside the club. And since then 20 other clubs have opened and nightlife exploded all over again. But that first year, if you were anybody, you had to go to Crobar. And if you went to Crobar you had to go to the Peter Tunney Room. It was like a funneling down. You ended up on my couch!”

Tunney’s married now, to a beautiful woman named Amy, so no more nightclub sleepovers. He is, though, still a bit of a vagabond, and quite fond of the extended stay. In fact, he told me he intends to shack up at the Eden Roc “for the next two months.” After all, he and 1500° proprietor Seth Greenberg do have something of a history together.

“After Crobar I did a Peter Tunney Room for Seth at Capitale in New York — it’s still there, it’s a permanent installation.”

The collage Tunney’s installing at The Eden Roc also looks like it’ll be here for the duration, and if 1500° Chef Paula Da Silva’s Hell’s Kitchen run is any indication, it’ll be some duration indeed. But it’s the Peter Tunney Experiment that most intrigues me. And that’s a tale as true as the tower it springs from. “The Peter Tunney Experiment happened like everything happens to me,” says Peter, “nothing by design. This guy says to me one day ‘You know Peter, I just bought a building and I’d like to show it to you. I have an idea.’ He takes me up to 666 5th Avenue; this million square foot building in the heart of Manhattan. And I said ‘This is the building you bought? Out of curiosity, what did you way for it?’ He said ‘1.8 billion.’ So I said ‘Okay, what are we gonna do?'”

“‘Well, I wanna give you the ground floor retail for a while, you can work in there. It’ll be like an experiment. I want to put that kind of energy in the base of this serious building.’ I said ‘Sure, we’ll call it “The Peter Tunney Experiment.”‘ He said ‘Beautiful.’ Then gave me the keys and the next day I moved in right next door to Cartier.”

Tunney is making moves in Miami now though, and those moves don’t begin and end with The Eden Roc either. He’s got a studio in Wynwood’s Graffiti Park, which is one of many Goldman Properties (Peter and Tony Goldman are friends), and noted hotelier and art collector “David Edelstein just bought two big paintings from [Tunney] to hang up in The W South Beach.” Peter is also “gonna do a Miami book, and [he’s] gonna call it My-Ami. Mostly though, Peter Tunney is simply gonna keep being Peter Tunney.

“I’m like Richard Dreyfuss with the mashed potatoes in Close Encounters,” he says. “I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I don’t even care that I don’t know what I’m doing. I wake up. I put my energy out into the world. Try not to kill anybody. Then I go to bed. And I’ve been putting that together for a couple thousand days and it more than works. All I’ve gotta do it stay outta my way.”

There was more, much more, enough even for two or three or four more pieces just like this. But after a message like that, I figured even Peter Tunney wouldn’t mind a brief pause.

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