It’s a hilarious thing to look back on now, but the fact is that about eight years ago Kathy Grayson’s MySpace blog was better than many of the major art websites which updated their content daily. This was apparent to me the first time I lost an evening browsing through her posts, and was made even more hilarious by the fact that I was working as a managing editor for one of those major art brands at the time. The thing that struck me most was the sense of humility and lack of pretension shown by a person who was running in such heavy art circles. To rehash a fancy dinner party full of Whitney board members on a tacky blog that crashed your computer when it loaded was to say out loud, “See, all this couldn’t be less important.” This attitude would be further evidenced by a follow-up post of nothing but graffiti throwups along different doors in New York’s Chinatown. Accessibility isn’t always a term you hear in close proximity to the art world, and it can be quite a breath of fresh air.
Since her early days as a curator at Deitch Projects, Ms. Grayson has had a nearly unparalleled eye for emerging artists and has made no qualms about sharing them with anyone who would listen. As has been stated many times, she is someone who lives and breathes art. She believes that the only way to take part in something so visceral is to be out there every night making art out of her experiences and figuring out ways to share it with the rest of the world. You need only meet her once or look at Art From Behind (the new and shiny version of her old MySpace blog) to sense her giddy, barely-contained excitement about the newest amazing thing she has come across.
Now firmly situated at her Bowery gallery The Hole – which relocated from it’s SoHo location in 2011 – Ms. Grayson has been presenting an incredible variety of showings: An enormous group show which served as a snapshot for current New York art, a life size reproduction of Monet’s Giverny by Kembra Pfahler and E.V. Day, and a slew of solo shows that have further defined what art in this country can be. Throw in a pop-up restaurant, a runway show, and a poetry reading and maybe you’ll start to get a sense of what we’re talking about here. Lest you forget, Kathy Grayson has a biting sense of humor. When you get overwhelmed by the constant and intense flow of events that dot each evening in the New York art world, you can imagine her standing next to you and cracking a joke. She’s the gallerist who lets you know that you can be serious without taking yourself too seriously.
Jesse Pollock: I find it amazing that, given your current schedule, you are able to create so much content on Art From Behind. Even since the early days on your MySpace blog, having that outlet seemed to play an important role for you. Can you talk about your everyday documentation and what it provides you with?
Kathy Grayson: What’s weird is that I am totally not self aware in any way about my blog. I don’t see it from the outside at all and I have no way of really checking how many people read it, although I heard almost 30K a week – I am just in a weird bubble when I do it. I stopped writing in a diary when I graduated college, and once I found somewhere I could have a visual diary I went crazy. I saw other people’s blogs and the images were so small you couldn’t see anything; the texts were so long you got soooo bored and so I created this format of big photo and short text. A picture tells a thousand words. So you only need like twenty of mine at most. I blog everything with no filter. The internet’s illusion that you are talking to an “ether” instead of individual people is great.
Jesse: Is it frustrating to have to censor yourself online when you have content that is hilarious and beautiful, but ultimately not appropriate to share? When and where do you draw that line?
Kathy: Times I have censored myself: Got in trouble with Jeffrey a few times for making fun of our Armory booth or of someone’s show, got in trouble with ex-boyfriends or their new girlfriends, Dash Snow hated his image going out in public and wouldn’t let me post the amazing photos of him ever, sometimes the guy I’m dating doesn’t want his butt or balls or whatever in public. Thankfully most of them don’t mind.
Jesse: Given that you have surrounded yourself with people that you find stimulating, there are a few noticeably recurring personalities that seem to stay constant for you. Do you think that curators have muses in the same way that artists do?
Kathy: I didn’t really think about it until you asked the question. I have guys I get obsessed with, not always date, but that become my best friend maybe or lover (ewww) or something. I get fascinated by them for different reasons. If I were a guy and these were chicks I would obv see this as a muse situation. Maybe as a girl I don’t think like that, after studying in fem theory how the role of a muse is not such a nice one. Jeffrey once told me that Julian Schnabel worked with muses; his best paintings were of women and he always needed a lady by him to inspire him. I don’t think I need a cute dude by my side but it’s a pretty nice situation if you can get it. I love boys, men, sex, love, poetry. I’m a Romantic, I dunno. I think my only female muse was Aurel [Schmidt], maybe a while ago Rosson [Crow] was a bit, maybe Kembra [Pfahler] some, but mostly the guys I fixate on aren’t artists but handsome naughty graffiti writers who make me feel dangerous and exciting. We don’t talk about art, we talk about graffiti or culture. It’s nice to have someone who doesn’t want to go to the opening at Gavin Brown and really doesn’t want to go to the gallery dinner afterwards. Maybe I need it like a breath of fresh air, to be out late at night looking out for the cops while someone spray paints the city.
￼Jesse: As much as I wanted to, I am finding it nearly impossible to have this conversation and not mention Jeffrey Deitch. Being so closely tied together in the media must have its benefits. Along with the pressure of having those shoes to fill, was there a time when you wanted the opportunity to have your own identity separate from the past and not have to talk about him all the time?
Kathy: I love Jeffrey! He is a genius and I can say that after working for him for almost nine years, I love talking about him. He and I had this great relationship where we talked about art and ideas all the time. He came of age during an era of interdisciplinary art in New York City where graffiti and hip hop were beginning and mixing with the East Village scene and art and fashion and everyone was doing everything. He got fired from his first job because he was late to work after staying out with Alan Vega all night at some club. So he didn’t fire me when I was late to work for three years from sleeping (or not sleeping) on Dash’s floor. He understood me and I learned a lot from him. I want to hang out with him more. I just saw him in San Francisco at the Barry McGee retrospective and we got to sit with each other at dinner and think up curatorial projects and I loved it so much. Then he made me change seats so he could sit next to this girl he thought was cute. Oh well.
Jesse: On a somewhat related note – “Art for everyone” seems to be the biggest ideal that you took with you from Deitch. Is this still your driving force when creating new projects? Do you ever find that this works against you or limits how far you can take a project?
Kathy: That philosophy informs the overall gallery programming when we have fashion shows, or performances, or concerts, or lectures to pull new people in. Some of the shows themselves are informed by this ideal, for example showing Kembra EV photos in a live garden instead of on white walls, but not all shows. I love art and the individual artworks themselves must sing with life and often require no surrounding fanfare to augment them. Matthew Stone for example or Holton Rower. We didn’t make Matthew DJ a nude rave in the space to “activate his show” because that part of his life wasn’t necessary to bring in and because that part of his life was already in the artworks themselves. Know what I mean?
Jesse: Much has been made in the past about “the hole that was created in the downtown art scene when Jeffrey Deitch moved to Los Angeles”. Given that It’s been almost two years since Deitch closed and given the partial aim of what you set out to undertake at that time, do you feel that this hole has been filled or at least gotten smaller?
Kathy: There should be way more people doing things like us – it would make the city way better, but there actually aren’t. Deitch had three galleries, was mega powerful and at all the top art fairs. I have one space, three staff, am not mega powerful, am 31 and just starting out. We do NADA and love it, keep getting rejected from bigger fairs and we don’t care. We have years to grow. To be honest, that whole ￼shit about “the hole from Deitch” was mostly PR silliness other people fixated on. That is not how I see things. I named the gallery The Hole after the lawless club on 2nd and 2nd where Dash used to take me…[it] closed in 2004. All the rest is funny coincidence.
Jesse: Deitch was known for supporting projects like Nest that weren’t meant to be sold and naturally shook up many people’s ideals of what art could still be in the current culture. Do you think that in a post-Deitch New York it’s still easy to create ripples and shock people in the same way?
Kathy: Shock art was never the goal and is so boring. After “sensation” in the 90’s there is no more room or interest to shock. Nest was not about shocking people at all. It was about creating a visual manifestation of total freedom and a bunch of other art reasons. Dash and I cooked up that show together and made it together along with five or ten other artists. None of us were thinking “boy this will really piss people off,” because people really living in the moment don’t have that meta voice telling them what other people think. Dash didn’t give a fuck what other people thought. Obviously.
Jesse: Does it bother you as a gallerist to hear people say that you don’t care about selling work or making money from your shows? Certainly this is an amazing concept, wildly refreshing, and in fact seemed to play a big part in the success of some of your past projects. However the question that remains, can this train of thought be financially viable and does it ever pose an issue?
Kathy: Yeah, those people are stupid – they should see my sales figures. We have sold almost a million dollars of art in the past year and they can suck it. I am here to sell art first and foremost. I admit when I started I was a curator who occasionally sold work at Deitch, but now that I run my own business my top priority has been to focus on sales and learn to be a better saleswoman. So far the super knowledgeable, super approachable and friendly angle works best which is good because it is the only angle I know.
Jesse: Knowing that you are a fan of critical theory, a thought stuck in my mind as I pored through your past press coverage. Something that I always found amazing about the work that you have done over the years – and this is especially true lately – is that it’s very hard to find negative critiques of you and your team. Do you ever start to worry when people like everything you do all the time? Can art have true value if no one is ever offended or there are no detractors?
Kathy: Again, I didn’t really think about this until you mentioned it but yeah, there seems to be overwhelming positivity toward me and the gallery. Maybe it’s because we are all nice and optimistic and supportive and fair and excited. Or maybe people are afraid to criticize me or the gallery? That can’t be right because no one is afraid to criticize anything on the internet of course. There are weird rumors that float ￼around and sometimes make their way to me. Rumors that the gallery is too “party gallery” and not serious enough (just ’cause you have fun doesn’t mean you are not serious). Once I even heard a rumor that Jeffrey secretly funds the gallery (tell my five young awesome investors that and they will laugh). I’ve heard people call me a drug addict (my life is a work in progress and I’m always trying to improve myself), or call me fat or ugly or something. The only time I ever get offended by negative prejudices is if I find an artist I want to show and they tell me that they don’t want to show with me because they want a bigger or “more serious” gallery. That “serious” thing really fucking pisses me off and I guess in one way it’s a good sign to me that the artist doesn’t get me and thus shouldn’t show with me. Because they are obviously an idiot, ha ha…but still I hate that ignorant criticism more than anything. It dogs Jeffrey as well and he would just ignore it and keep doing what he did, so I will probably do that too.
Jesse: Do you feel as though you have contemporaries (at least in New York) when it comes to galleries and curation, or do you feel like you are a bit further down your own path and therefore a bit out in uncharted territory?
Kathy: I feel a bit out on my own to be honest. Jeffrey wasn’t like friends with other dealers really so I “grew up” with the impression that gallerists weren’t friends or something. I have consciously tried to change that in myself but find it hard maybe.
Jesse: Are there other galleries you turn to for advice or do find that making your own gut decisions is helping to shape your own individual voice?
Kathy: The last time I felt surrounded by “likeminded individuals” that creatively pushed me and would brainstorm with me, etc. – was [with] Dash and that group and before that was college. So I am really in the market for some creative geniuses to get at me and go have a beer. Please. All I have right now is Matthew Stone and he fucking lives in UK.
Jesse: When you started bringing in sponsors to help with the exhibitions and projects, was that something you had to make amends with or was it a non-issue? Does it ever get uncomfortable to have a brand tied so closely into the work or do you think people are smart enough to distinguish the line?
Kathy: To take a regular show and make it an amazing dream-come-true show takes money that a young gallery doesn’t have, so the sponsors really stepped in to make our artists’ dreams come true. I haven’t seen any confusion or negative stuff come up – like people thinking Holton works with Dior or something, or not buying his work because of the taint of sponsorship. Museums have many sponsors for each show, so people get that. They don’t think, for example, that Cindy Sherman works for Mercedez-Benz or something at MOMA.
Jesse: ￼Does it make you feel like you have less creative freedom when there is a sponsor involved?
Kathy: The sponsors always are flexible and have never restricted or curtailed anything the artists want to do; they don’t have any say in anything like that. They get to participate in lots of ways and usually the artists wants to do stuff with them, so it’s really just positive all around. We get to have a great dinner party or performance, make a catalogue, and in one case build Giverny, France in the gallery for a month.
Jesse: There has been lots of talk about gallery attendance being down in recent years. Some of your projects have aimed to address this and make art more accessible to people who may not be able to see the work in person. Does making work accessible on the internet bolster the problem and make it easier for people to be lazy, or is it a way to accept that this plays a part in the future of art and make a compromise for the greater good of the audience?
Kathy: Great works of art have to be seen in person to be really experienced, and great installations are obviously experiential as well. As an art viewer myself, some shows I will just see on the internet and some I realize I must see in person. I try to show artworks that need to be seen with eyeballs and installations that need to be walked through. Our gallery is packed with people all the time, so I haven’t noticed any downturn in attendance. Art fairs are a great way to reach the international community of art lovers as well and those are packed. It’s exhausting talking to two-hundred people a day about art – it’s a marathon.
Jesse: It seems like these days artists and the galleries that they show in have a much looser understanding of what that relationship means and more freedom to show wherever they please. I know that artists have always been free to decide what works for them, but have you found that the concept of “repping an artist” has changed in the last ten years or so (and certainly before that) to the point where it’s more often not an option? Does The Hole aim to represent its own artists?
Kathy: Deitch always had a weird thing with representing people. We did represent people. Some of them we took care of super closely; paid for their studio and all this shit. Some of them [were] more distant and then we did lots of projects and one-offs as well. So people were really confused about whom we represented. Here I have made a point to put on the web our lists of artists and those are the people we represent. The contracts I have with those artists vary a bit, but all delineate a clear relationship of how we handle their work. We aren’t a big enough gallery to pay for artists’ studios and assistants and all that jazz, but of course one day I hope to.
Jesse: I have had a recurring conversation about “cultural hubs” lately and while I can acknowledge that there are many other places in the world that create and foster amazing art communities, inevitably the conversation comes back to New York. It’s to the point where you can travel to a place like Berlin (which has an admirable art community a la the early days of San Francisco) and hear artists say “I can’t wait to move to New York and make it.” Is it presumptuous to consider New York a leader in the contemporary arts? Could you ever see yourself doing what you do anywhere else?
Kathy: Right now I have a crush on a guy who lives in a different country and it made me wonder whether I could run a gallery or branch of the gallery there (love is an inspirer of many things). At the same time, I am one of those New Yorkers that thinks New York is the center of the universe. There are many good reasons to think that but I think most people already know them. I like showing artists that have their own communities and scenes in their cities. Cody Critcheloe and Kansas City, Matthew Stone and London, Eric Yahnker and LA, etc. I like to analyze how communities work, but the one I am deeply connected to and invested in is obviously the downtown community here. And lucky for me, everyone comes through New York at some point so I can pull them all into my big party.
Jesse: In the New York Minute book you curated in coordination with the exhibition in Rome, Gavin McInnes has a great essay where he breaks down New York by decade and explains how New York is constantly moving forward and being created by the kids who have reclaimed and reinvented whatever has been left over from the past. Do you feel like you are straddling two different eras in New York art? If New York is always evolving and doesn’t lend itself easily to longevity, how do you plan for what’s to come?
Kathy: New York works the way art works; in art each new generation cannibalizes the past generation in some way, reinventing it and pushing things forward. The scene here loses some people at the old end, gains some new people at the new end, and moves forward that way. The key characteristic is that the group here is open. It is a meritocracy, it is embracing and positive, and it takes all kinds. ALL the weirdos come here and put themselves out there and join the team, and thus change the team by their participation. Leave it to all the other guys to decide what to call the scene or try to describe it. We are too busy making it thrive and develop!