Sometimes you meet people whose lives have made collisions with significant things - things of impact, things that later might make history books or Wikipedia entries in neat bracketed headings. Kathy Grayson, curator and owner of gallery The Hole NYC is one of those people. At just 35, she is too young to have witnessed Bianca Jagger getting on a white horse at Studio 54, but she was right there for the people and the art that came a little later in New York, at the time an epicenter for young, raw artists. After graduating Grayson pitched up at Jeffrey Deitch’s gallery and quickly became a curator because, as Deitch said, she had ‘it’ from the start. She helped make big things happen - performance, music, events and street art intersected with names like Jeff Koons, Bjork, Ryan McGinley, Dash Snow. After Jeffrey Deitch decamped and the gallery closed, Kathy became the owner of The Hole, a Bowery Street big art space where she continues to use her eye and her experience to spot emerging artists and champion them along their way. TFS spoke to Kathy about those experiences, Bert the dog, and what exactly ‘it’ is that she has got.
Kathy, how is Bert the Pomeranian?
Bert is great; he is sleeping on the desk and is very fluffy. I think he helps draw people in, actually. He has certainly helped sell art before, but mostly I think he helps sell chocolate pomeranians; like, there is a big spike in chocolate pomeranian purchase and hopefully adoption! He is a shelter doggie from petfinder.com so I hand out a lot of pet finder stickers to people.
There has been much written about your years working for Jeffrey Deitch. Do you get sick of the focus on that?
After being on the front page of the NY Times art section with the headline “Art? But We’re Here To Party” in 2012 I obviously needed to refine and focus the gallery message, and so recently we have toned down our events performances and parties and upped our exhibition quality and art fair participation. I think in the past few years we have a new reputation of major solo shows and critically important thematic group exhibitions. The crowds at our openings are the largest but they are here for the art, and the art holds up to their more rigorous scrutiny.
How did you bridge that gap between straight-out-of-internship to the brave new world of Deitch and his artists? What gave you a believable connection to (and credibility towards) the artists?
Jeffrey was living the art from when he was in his 20’s. He got fired from his first gallery job for being late all the time, because he was out at clubs into the wee hours hanging out with Alan Vega and Keith Haring. So he really let me do my thing, and then we made a book about it called Live Through This which I am super proud of. It was my alternate graduate thesis in life, and I think I passed! Living the art has a long tradition, and will have a long future, too. I wrote like 5000 words about it in that book but I think only like one person ever read the whole thing though - haha!
You said when you were at Deitch the artists were your social circle and you ran and played with them. How did you ‘live’ the art, not just work the job?
When I turned 30 I was unequivocally relieved - literally grateful to have survived my 20’s. I turned 30 having just raised a bunch of money and opening my own gallery business - that was a fucking miracle too. Too many people are lost to drugs and I should have been one of them as well, but I lucked out, won the lottery for the millionth time, and am here typing right now with Bert. I still live the art, but I lost my death wish perhaps, having suffered the real death of people I loved. Living the art definitely does not have to mean living with drugs, and the creativity and addiction link is both lame and not super accurate. At the start it feels like part of the freedom adventure, but ends up being the crushing opposite of freedom. I’m not sure what I would have done differently - probably nothing - but I'm happy I don't have to do it over again.
I remember reading about Dash Snow and Dan Colen’s 2007 show Nest and it had a big impact on me - I was shocked, excited, horrified and challenged by the whole thing. You were right in the middle of such a weird, nihilistic time. Do you miss it?
I miss Dash, he was like an angel or a … meteor or something, the best guy, the funniest guy, the wildest and most exciting guy. He was a great friend too, a great human, he gave me my first taste of real freedom! Let’s put it that way. He turned a lot of people into freedom in his life, and I think he made me a better person.
What’s the climate out there like now? Are there artists like Snow and Colen still pushing those same boundaries, or have we all gotten waylaid amongst the global financial crises and Hillary’s pantsuits?
There are a lot of artists living in radical ways and making radical art, and there are a lot of young artists living in wild and irreverent ways, making irreverent art. There are also a lot of careerist motherfuckers looking to play the game and make it big making anaemic art people want to buy. The art world is large, it contains multitudes! There are so many people of all ages making art that feels like freedom, charged with life, transformatively wild, and thank goodness for that because I have to put on 15 shows a year here!
Your curation seems to have been based on gut from the start. What is it that enables you to spot the potential?
Well, I’d like to say there are these intangibles like vibe or energy or something, but I'm not a hippie, I'm a punk, and extremely overeducated, so there is of course many essays I could devote to “what makes good art” or whatever. In the post-modern world where no metrics for value are allowed, and are all shown to be problematic, people talk about art now in terms of “interest”. Is that interesting, is she an interesting young artist, is his sculpture of interest, etc. I am more an avant gardist in thinking “is this urgent, is this necessary, is this something that could only be made now, right now, and why?”
In that way I hope all art captures what it is like to be a human right now, from different regions, different backgrounds, or just a universal humanity that transcends that. My old boss translated these feelings into a metric of “fresh”. Is this a fresh perspective, or is it warmed-over 70’s/80’s crap? If Jeffrey called your art “fresh” then that was like the benchmark of quality, I feel the same way, and I know exactly what he meant by that word.
So The Hole is not a replacement for the Deitch Gallery. Is there a different agenda now you are on your own?
Jeffrey is a genius. I can see how many people don't get to see it or are biased against it but I know the real deal when I see it and I saw it up close for many years. He and I share a lot of spirit and perspective on art making; I learned a shitload from him and flatter myself to think he got something out of me too. But Deitch Projects was so mega, I can’t compete with that stuff. He would do a Keith Haring multi-million dollar sculpture show, then a huge Vanessa Beecroft performance on a ship, a 20-ton Mariko Mori wave UFO interactive sculpture pod, ten box trucks piled in the corner for Barry McGee, a Josh Smith show painted directly on the walls and unsaleable…and I can’t do that shit. I'm a small business with a tiny bit of start up money, just enough to renovate the space and open the first show. I’m building a small gallery in a super impressive space with three staff and a lot of ambition and I hope I have at least a decade to grow into the mega-shows and major installations that Jeffrey put together. He is on such a different level than me and so the comparison is often laughable.
The Hole is your space, your own eyes - what art are you drawn to now?
I’m happy that I have gotten to do shows this fall so far with two artists I met back in 2003: Ben Jones from Paper Rad and Misaki Kawai. I have known those guys for over a decade and they have both in different ways been hugely influential on me, art-wise and life-wise. I'm flattered that I get to help them continue their art practice and increase their notoriety and spread their influence. Now I just gotta get some of the other original gangsters here at The Hole like Terence Koh or Dash’s estate or Rosson or Aurel and all my other close friends from the past decade. Happily though, most of my old friends are big time at more established galleries already.