February 15, 2012  |  Behind the Scenes
Bow Tie Art: Do You Wear It or Hang It?

Nicholas Ruiz. Lego Tie, created for The Armory Party 2011. Image courtesy Dirty Sugar Photo

Do you wear it or hang it?

“The choice is really yours,” said Nicholas Ruiz, as we chatted over chocolate chip cookies in MoMA’s Cafe 2. He was referring to the 11 bow ties in The Bow Tie Collection, which he designed and crafted over the 2011 calendar year. Each one was inspired by the exhibition openings and benefits he worked last year at The Museum of Modern Art—and each was worn by him on the night of the event. (See the full slideshow below.)

I asked Nicholas, who works at MoMA as the assistant to the Director of Special Programming and Events, to wear one of his “neckpieces” to our chat, and as we entered the café, a couple quickly pointed to the brightly colored Lego bow tie that he made for last year’s Armory Party. “People tend to be very curious and ask me where I buy my bow ties,” said Nicholas.“ When I explain I make them, the questions keep on coming.”

Each of the 11 bow ties in his collection was hand-made from unique and often recycled materials at Nicholas’s apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, during the weeks leading up to an opening or benefit. As with many artists, the idea for each piece came to fruition organically, and every bow tie drew style and design influences from its correlating event. The custom bow ties have ranged from looping film negatives for MoMA’s fourth annual Film Benefit, honoring Pedro Almodóvar, to a wine-cork bow tie from the restaurants of his favorite chef, Jose Garces, for the German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse exhibition opening. Even computer wires, circuit boards, and a working QR code became a bow tie for Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.

A chance meeting with the singer Janelle Monáe in November 2010 sparked his idea to create these wearable works of art. 

“She wears this fantastic bow tie in her music video for “Tightrope,” Nicholas said. “I started looking for a similar one in NYC, but couldn’t find anything—so I decided to just make one myself.”

The occasion for his very first bow tie was the February 8, 2011, opening of MoMA’s Picasso: Guitars 1912–1914 exhibition.

Recently Tree Hugger, the popular website for green news, reached out to Nicholas to ask him about his bow ties. “I was very surprised,” says Nicholas. “There had been some buzz about the eco-friendly aspect to them, and how several are made from sustainable materials, like the soda-can bow tie for Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception. They called me the “king of recycling” in the article,” he says, grinning. “I’m a good recycler, but I’m not sure I deserve that crown!” Other recycled materials, like a Queens Chronicle newspaper, helped shape his bow tie for de Kooning: A Retrospective, and chandelier crystals from a neighborhood lighting store became the bow tie for The Party in the Garden 2011.

For his first gallery show later this spring, Nicholas will frame the Bow Tie Collection with special back panels that allow for easy removal. And if you’re wondering what he has in store for his next collection, Nicholas will be designing—and, once again, hand-crafting—100 different bow ties. “I want the next collection to be participatory, so I’m asking people to send and suggest materials that they would like to see made into a bow tie. You hand me a box of old cocktail stirrers, you’re gonna see cocktail stirrers like never before!”

You can follow Nicholas on Twitter @BowTieBoy,  view his bow tie art at MadeInForestHills, or e-mail him at