From Protegè to Proprietress

How Kathy Grayson continues to stay ahead of the curve

Kathy Grayson, one of New York’s most intriguing and indomitable fixtures of the downtown art scene, is coming up on her second successful year as the proprietress of The Hole, her Lower East Side gallery.

In an attempt to “fill the hole in New York’s downtown community,” Grayson is a welcome change from the mainstay of gallery owners and career-savvy interlopers that are more interested in commercialization than artistic quality.

Grayson wears many hats – gallery owner, curator, Neo-Impressionist artist, writer, art editor (for i-D magazine), fanzine aficionado, and late night reveler. She has an uncanny eye for emerging artists coupled with the ability to turn a fledgling career into a fully-fledged success story – an approach that is formidable, but never formulaic.

Grayson, who started out as a receptionist, spent eight years as the director of the now-defunct but critically acclaimed Deitch Projects. There, she was responsible for some of Deitch’s more daring endeavors, such as Dan Colen and the late Dash Snow’s ’07 installation of shredded newspapers, urine and wine. While Deitch Projects also provided a platform for many more salable street artists such as Swoon and Shepard Fairey, Grayson’s latest project promises to focus on more underground work rooted in graffiti culture.

Grayson seems to have gracefully bridged the gap between grassroots enthusiasm and old-school institutional praise – no easy feat in a world where creativity and commerce are at constant loggerheads. She remains completely unwilling to adopt the air of inaccessibility proselytized by the so-called high-end art scene, swapping snooty elitism for down and dirty enthusiasm.

As we fought off the winter doldrums, Grayson sat down with Gravure to shed some light on the downtown art scene, getting the whole deal at The Hole, and her contempt for street art…

Gravure: I get the sense that the fun you had in the early days (circa 2002) can never be recreated. Does life today pale in comparison, or are you carving out a new sense of fulfillment?

Kathy Grayson: Dash was the funniest person in NYC by a factor of like, 100, so things will never be as exciting again. But, they will be great in a different way. As I grow up, I find other things exciting, and going from curating shows to running my own gallery has been the biggest and most exciting thing in my life – since Deitch closed, obviously. It is intensely stressful and uniquely rewarding.

Gravure: Jeffery Deitch was quoted as saying that your gallery is not an “elitist selling machine.” How is The Hole different than other NY galleries?

Kathy Grayson: We sell lots of art. That’s our mission. But we do things differently; since we represent young talent, we have no need to be elitist about the work. There are many works, priced very reasonably, and we want to get them out there. We are not at the point yet where we make wait lists and tell people they are not permitted to buy, as many galleries must do when they have a very hot mid-career artist who doesn’t make too much work and they have to send people away. Other dealers may use intimidation or rudeness to sell art, but all I know how to do is be open and friendly, so I hope that approach ends up working out as well!

Gravure: Do you think there’s a gap between what you believe to be great art and what many galleries are currently showing?

Kathy Grayson: There is a very strong trend right now toward lazy abstraction or installation: dirty rag art, towels pinned on the wall, piles of junk in the corner. I can’t help but love and show only art that is charged with life and sincerity and, often, skill. Thankfully, art world trends and market trends shift very often!

Gravure: Is there a certain set of criteria that you look for in an artist, or is your selection process a little more visceral?

Kathy Grayson: All the work I show has to be real. I don’t like art about art, I don’t like over-theorized art, and I don’t like cynical or ironic art. There are many, many criteria that go into my curation and who we show here, but the main thing is that I like art that comes out of life, and is charged with energy and innovation, that is visceral or immediate, that communicates a feeling or idea that anyone, not just an Artforum editor, can feel and understand.

Gravure: You’re just back from Art Basel Miami Beach. Are art fairs a positive thing for a gallerist?

Kathy Grayson: Art fairs are where most galleries make the most income for the year. Gallery attendance, I hear, is down, but we always have over a thousand people smushing in here for our openings, and a lot of client appointments throughout the show. We do sell lots at fairs, but we focus on exhibitions here on the Bowery, and sell very well from our shows and our showroom.

Gravure: Who are the artists to watch in 2013?

Kathy Grayson: “Artists To Watch in 2013” is technically a list that I should charge you money for! Insider knowledge doesn’t come cheap. Haha! I can tell you who to watch at The Hole, as I think I have assembled the most exciting new talent here under my roof, and that list includes Jaimie Warren, Parker Ito, Holton Rower, Eddie Martinez, Lola Schnabel, Kadar Brock and many more!

Gravure: How has the relationship between art and commerce changed in recent years?

Kathy Grayson: Art and commerce have been crucially connected for centuries. The only real change is related to the digital age – clients buying from JPEGs instead of slides, for example. However, no one has yet to master the market of online sales, and I am not sure anyone ever will. Art refuses to be sold in that way, and I think it will continue to involve galleries exhibiting things that people need to come look at in person.

Gravure: What do you look for in a piece of art when procuring it for your personal collection?

Kathy Grayson: I buy lots of art, but mostly I have art given to me by artists as gifts. I have an amazing Barry McGee, Jules de Balincourt, Terence Koh, Dash Snow, Taylor McKimens, Joe Grillo, Eric Yahnker, Aurel Schmidt, Kadar Brock, Jaimie Warren, Ben Jones – and a whole lot of others I don’t have room to hang in my little one bedroom in the East Village. But, I cherish all of them!

Gravure: Are you drawn to any artistic movement in particular?

Kathy Grayson: Historically, I am drawn to the history of abstraction and the legacy of Expressionism, while the philosophies of Pop are obviously my main M.O. I go through lots of phases, usually set on the exhibitions at the MET, MoMA, or the Whitney, and am so happy to have such exciting museums to visit whenever I want to brush up on my knowledge of past art movements and overlooked artists in the canon.

Gravure: I recall from the last time we met that you had little time for street art. With so many posers, how do you identify the real deal?

Kathy Grayson: I hate street art and love graffiti, and have written a very long, forthcoming article on the difference. The only artist who successfully brings graffiti and its principles into a gallery or museum is Barry McGee, and I strongly recommend to the others to follow his example. Our last show of conceptual, cerebral paintings was done by a guy who used to be a major graffiti dude, and who founded one of the biggest crews in Chicago, but no one would ever guess from his exhibition here. That is probably the best way to go – unless you are a visionary, like Barry.

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