Life After Deitch: Q&A with The Hole’s Kathy Grayson

When Jeffrey Deitch announced in January that he was closing his legendary Deitch Projects to head up L.A.’s MOCA, a collective shudder rippled through downtown New York. But his staff members were too busy planning their next move to mourn the departure of their overachieving mentor for long. Just one month after the final New York show, Deitch’s former directors Kathy Grayson and Meghan Coleman have emerged with their own gallery, The Hole.

Nestled next to luxury giant Louis Vuitton in the heart of Soho, The Hole—whose name pays homage to the defunct East Village nightclub—is a sprawling work-in-progress. Final touches still being made to the space serve as inspiration for the first exhibit, Not Quite Open for Business, featuring unfinished work by over 20 artists arranged around an installation by Taylor McKimens. I caught up with Grayson to talk about her new undertaking, the community she helped foster and her aspiring role as matchmaker…

What’s the first piece of art you had an emotional reaction to?
The first piece that got through to me was a drawing by Chris Johanson in a 2002 Matthew Marks group show that I stumbled upon. It had a guy in a business suit on all fours with a dogface with a talk bubble, saying “How did I become a fucked-up dog person?” It made me reevaluate my life, as corny as that sounds. It made me change the path I was on because I looked into the future and saw it was going to be a bad trip.

Was opening a space always something you knew you would do after Deitch?
Nope, I never though about doing it. I never quite pictured post-Deitch because it was so fun and so great and things were growing and perpetually interesting, so why leave?

Why Soho?
Anywhere downtown would have been great. [I had] no interest in homogenizing, unpleasant Chelsea. Soho is a beautiful part of town—active, interesting. So is the Lower East Side and Chinatown. I live on Avenue C and 2nd Street so anywhere I could walk would have been okay.

What are you most proud of from your time at Deitch?
The community of artists that I built here with Jeffrey’s support. The most valuable asset I have is my team.

Most gallery directors have a shorter life span than you did at Deitch. What kept you there so long?
It was like working at a well-funded Kunsthalle. Any show idea I cooked up, we did. Any project I pitched, we did. Any book I wanted to do, essay I wanted to write, event I wanted to throw! It wasn’t always easy but Jeffrey always supported my ideas and the door was open to make my ideas reality.

How do you stay current with the art world?
I have a big network of people who keep me posted on things. I go out every night to events, concerts, openings, closings, screenings, etc. I go to studio visits. I poke around the Internet. I have my ears open and lots of friends with recommendations.

Are you looking to bring artists you haven’t worked with before to The Hole?
Our next two shows: Cody Critcheloe [of the band SSION] and Mat Brinkman. Neither one has done a show at Deitch. Both are huge talents. With Mat I have been trying to get him to do a show for like six years. This is the culmination of years of patience and relationship-building. It’s a huge triumph and going to be fantastic!

You’re an artist yourself. Do you find it hard to balance creating art and running a gallery?
Since the gallery opened I have made one 3×4-foot painting. I made it staying up all night one night. Other than that, I have no spare time for anything and can’t seem to sit down in my studio for more than 30 seconds at a time. It sucks!

Would you ever have a show of your own work at the gallery?
Oh, no way. I don’t want to pee where I eat, or whatever that expression is.

What do you think the biggest challenges will be for you in your first year?
Selling art, as simple as that!

Jeffrey Deitch was obviously a great businessman, which enabled him to put on the more creative projects that didn’t necessarily make him money. How concerned with the business side of The Hole are you?
Jeffrey always went for it, did ambitious projects and worried about paying for it later. All money made went into the next great project. This is exactly how I hope to run things. We will have a much smaller overhead so we will be able to build our sales and collector relationships over the first few months and try to get things off the ground.

Has the downtown art scene changed since you began working at Deitch? 
The community has adjusted, morphed and evolved constantly since 2002 when I moved here—in a million nuanced ways. But the core ideals and energy are still there and I feel them deeply and it provides guidance for programming and exhibitions. We will definitely continue on this course at The Hole and definitely be keeping it weird.

Did any of the artists you asked to be in this show feel uncomfortable about showing unfinished work? Like going outside without makeup?
Everyone we invited was down. Maybe two people were too busy to do the show and 25 were psyched. All the artists had a positive experience, and many were excited by the encouragement they received for their unfinished works. At least one painter decided she would try to make her future paintings less finished because she agreed with many commenters that her work looked even better a little rough and a little less closed down.

You started a blog for the gallery, A paparazzi friend once told me he could recognize celebrities from behind by their asses. Have you developed this special talent with artists?
That’s really funny. I don’t know how much I stare at people’s butts—a fair amount, I suppose. Mostly I just wanted to have a blog that went behind the scenes of the art world, but have it be more playful and strange and irreverent. So my ex-boyfriend Patrick suggested the name “art from behind” and it stuck. I didn’t realize how many photos of butts I had in my archive and it turned out to be a perfect fit.

Tell us about the dating service you’re launching.
Whee! Rosson Crow is our first subject. She is this hot, talented, awesome painter we show and for some reason she can’t get a date to save her life. That tells me that there is a problem and someone needs to step in and start connecting these awesome creatives with each other. Hole lotta love!

Not Quite Open for Business runs through August 21, 2010, The Hole, 104 Greene Street, New York City