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Kathy Grayson: An Interview

Artvoices, February 2012

Over the last decade she has emerged as one of visual art’s most intriguing curators: part irreverent, part visionary, part revolutionary. Now, Kathy Grayson is entering the next stage in her remarkable evolution: opening her own gallery, The Hole, on New York’s Lower East Side.

Tori Bush: You got your start at the infamous Deitch Projects. How did you get that gig and when did you move into a permanent position?

Kathy Grayson: The first show I worked on at Deitch was Chris Johanson’s 2002 exhibition, NOW IS NOW. I met everyone on the scene through Chris. This made me want to curate a show on my own that featured Matt Leines and Keegan McHargue. I found a gallery in Brooklyn to let me do this show during the summer of 2003. That show got a New York Times review just above the review of the Deitch show, so Jeffrey yelled at me and then promoted me to Director.

TB: What made you stay at Deitch projects for almost 10 years?

KG: Jeffrey is a visionary and a genius. Sorry, I can use those words after working for him for eight years. He was essentially running a radical Kunsthalle called Deitch. I was Jeffrey’s talent scout and brought major artists like Cory Arcangel, Tauba Auerbach, Aurel Schmidt, Jules de Balincourt, Dan Colen, Dash Snow, Terence Koh and many more to the gallery. I got to do whatever I wanted there and Jeffrey treated me as an intellectual equal with whom he would discuss culture and curatorial theory. He was also crazy, and occasionally made me want to murder him, but with any real iconoclastic risk-taking smarty-pants person, you have to take the bad with the good. Geniuses are not known for their people skills.

TB: The name of your gallery is a homage to Deitch Projects.  How does your vision for your gallery differ from Deitch?

KG: I didn’t want to call the gallery Kathy Grayson Fine Art because all this really is not about me, it’s about the community of artists I am a part of. THE HOLE is actually a club I used to go to; it closed in 2003, I think. I loved how lawless and fucked up it was. It was the only place where all the different NYC underground subcultural groups hung out and got along: the IRAK tough graffiti dudes, the lesbian arty ladies, the club kids, everyone. It was huge and dark blue and covered in graffiti and you could do drugs at the bar and people were always fucking somewhere on the premises.

TB: You’re known for showing emerging and underground artists. What excites you when you look at a new artist’s work?

KG: My taste looks extremely broad, but really everything I show must have that vital life force of sincerity to it. I like art that is an extension of the artist’s life, something urgent and immediate and necessary, not something lazy and premeditated and contrived. That spirit comes in many forms but I can always feel it in the art and know immediately if something is for me. This has been articulated in different ways by art theorists for centuries, using different words, but always with the same meaning. The exhibit FACEMAKER sought to take the temperature of today’s young artists by focusing on how they make a very rudimentary image, the human face. Every generation has its own take on the figure, and how they choose to represent it says a lot about the world around them at that time.

May Anderson, Fbiola Beracasa and Kathy on the Evan Gruzis / Rafael de Cardenas installation

TB: You have said that you want to expand the audience for art. What are some of your strategies to accomplish this?

KG: The most obvious way is through our artist shop in the front of the gallery, where you can buy a $75 poster instead of the $10,000 original work in the gallery. This is to make sure art is not just for the 1% who can afford expensive art objects. Also, in the gallery we present projects that are interesting to a broad audience: children, grandmothers, taggers, bankers, IT technicians, whatever. I promise never to do a show that is only interesting to Artforum Magazine. In fact, I probably never will do a show that is interesting to Artforum Magazine.

TB: Can you talk about the role of your sponsors in exhibits?

KG: To help bring in that extra bit of budget that makes an average exhibition an EXCEPTIONAL exhibition, we have courted sponsors to participate. We offer them our artist shop to present their products, and then put their logo on our materials announcing their support of the show.

TB: Can you tell me a little bit about the role between gallery director and artist? Do you feel like you represent your artists in a traditional sense or are you pioneering new forms of relationship with your artists?

KG: For better or for worse, I am way closer to my artists that I should be. Or rather, than other galleries are. I can’t help it. Matthew Stone just went back to the UK after being in New York for two weeks installing his show, and I am absolutely distraught. We would just work in the gallery all day and talk about art and philosophies of beauty and write manifestos about the sublime. He would play the same Rihanna song over and over and drive me crazy and we would talk about boys and then sell all his artworks to people. Sigh! That is why I am in this business, for the relationship with the artists, so I can’t help but get too involved. Recently my personal goal has been to focus more of my energy and charisma on charming collectors, because that part doesn’t really come naturally, but is absolutely crucial to what I am doing here.

TB: Thanks Kathy.

Matthew Stone and others at Matthew Stone opening

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