Photography by Matthew Shrier
Interview by Jey Van-Sharp
Life is a great debate: We often find ourselves in the middle of the ring of opinion, wrestling between traditional stat quo views, contemporary progressiveness, and ‘on the cusp’ notions. Within our society there are many versions of extremes; most recently the poles of opinions around the upcoming American presidential elections, where citizens of the American nation choose point of views and sides, placing their earnest support behind either the presidential incumbent or the opposing presidential nominee. The people of the United States will be pegged between the Republican and Democratic political agenda, being persuaded to make the ‘choice’ that deeply affects their daily existence.
Within the nature of politics, exists a device, a lens of sorts, where one opinion hopes to gain dominance over another. The victor, whether overtly or covertly stated, has a direct influence on our lives, our psychologies, the way we earn our livings and the way we choose to express ourselves. This battle of point of views is not necessarily a bad thing, but we the [young and young at heart] people often are not represented within this binary of cultural opinion and political debate. A question many have asked in lieu of the elections: Is there a space for an alternate point of view(s) beyond the binary of political discourse? Some people often find themselves in the midst of polarizing opinions: Having to choose sides, usually not granted optional choices, forced to choose a side within the box, feeling under represented, and alienated from self. For many, this is where the conversation around the arts begins: Art and the development of aesthetic appreciation provides a haven, a sanctuary that exists beyond the bounds of political and dominant cultural discourse (zeitgeist?).
“Your ethnic or sexual identity, what region of the country you’re from, what your class is – those aspects of your identity are not the same as your aesthetic identity. “Stanley Crouch
“Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”-CHINUA ACHEBE
Enter The Art: One person providing such a platform, a place beyond the binary, and pushing the conversation beyond normalcy, is Kathy Grayson, the 31-year-old owner and director of The Hole, a contemporary art gallery, representing emerging artists. Anyone walking down Bowery, NYC, has seen the long lines gathered to gain access to The Hole. The fever around her space and the art works, speaks volumes on the success of Ms. Grayson. Ms. Grayson has the uncanny ability to affect an ‘artistic democracy’ by creating street level enthusiasm and institutional art world praise. Kathy Grayson has managed to bridge the ‘gap,’ while maintaining the business side of gallery operations and catering to the best interests of her artists. Ms. Grayson was a director at the former downtown gallery and creative incubator of Deitch Projects, ran by Art Dealer and Museum Director Jeffrey Deitch.
Recently I sat down with Ms. Grayson and gained her insight on art, business, politics, economics, and culture:
What is art Ms. Grayson?
Art is about changing lives & lifting spirits, art is about social concerns, art is outside the conventional lifestyle. Art is about challenging notions. Art is seductive gorgeous.
As we are approaching the presidential elections, and politics are at the forefront, does politics have any affect on your day-to-day?
Well, politics affects markets, markets affect the art market, and the art market affect the gallery business.
One of the main issues currently at the forefront is the American economy, with regard to this issue, how is one, if at all, affected by America and global art market economic issues; specifically with the running of an art gallery? From programming to finance to your overall business operations?
People ask me how are we doing in a recession… I’m in the emerging art market; we don’t broker any work above $50-60-70k. There will always be speculators in the emerging art market, regardless of the [macro] economy. There always will be art enthusiast spending $10k on paintings, knowing that one of those paintings will make them a million dollars. There will always be purchasing interest from one part of the world or industry. Through the recession, there was a rush of investment bankers who were buying art…God knows where that art is now…There was a time where Japan was buying emerging art. Now Brazil and China are the hot art markets. Art is a global thing. There about 20 really major contemporary art collectors who travel around to the international art fairs. I connect with them…Basel, Miami, LA Art fair etc. Indirectly, politics affect income, income affect people; the people who buy art.
Recently, I had a conversation with an artist and enthusiast, a heated conversation ensued on the relation of art and business; what is your view on the relationship between art and business? What are some of theses nuances that make the Hole a unique art gallery?
When I was working with Jeffery [Deitch] at the Deitch Project, I scouted talent; I curated shows and bought in a lot of young artist who made headway, and, in addition, money. I learned from Jeffery to do it for the love first. Jeffery did shows where nothing was for sale, he made most of his money in the secondary art market. The Deitch project never made piles of money – all the money we made went to the creation of the next show and making sure the artist could pay their rent or go to back to school to get their masters. At the Deitch Project I had the luxury of being only responsible for curating, I did not have to worry about operations and money. When I opened The Hole, I had to be more than a curator. It became obvious that we had to be concerned with the business side of running an art gallery.
My business model, if I were to affect art and culture, was to provide an A+ gallery space and communicate to my artist, that if they stuck with me for a year, I would give them the best exhibitions possible. I realized early on that if you were ambitious with your gallery space and business practice, the artist would return the same ambition with their [art] work.
The Hole is a 4000 (SF) gallery.
In the beginning, I realized there was no room to have these massive exhibitions, if we didn’t recoup from the art shows and then provide the next round of artists with the necessary tools for show success. When I opened The Hole, I raised enough from an investor to essentially to get the doors open. Typically, to open an art gallery, you need to raise 3 years of operating expenses. For the Hole, we have to sell a certain amount of art to cover our overhead…
What are some of the things have you done to adjust to these circumstances? I have found ways of innovating the gallery business: I have partnered with corporate sponsors-Dior, Playboy, Native Shoes, etc. They have sponsored the art exhibitions and these partners are able to connect with the our community and artist via events, dinners, co-curating products, logo placement, etc. These shows are $275k plus, and most emerging art are seldom showed and would not be able to do so without a partner.
We rent out the space for private events to create a wider audience, and these revenues help support our artist. The Hole also has in the front, 200 (SF) dedicated for products. We provide an opportunity for art enthusiasts who cannot afford to buy a piece for 30k, they can buy the print for $30.00. We have sold $20K in prints in a year. At no point do we compromise the artists’ vision; we do not force an artist to make a towel with brand logos or putting huge logos on the gallery wall if the artist has a problem with that. We don’t compromise the art; we have found ways to get strategic partnerships that help and encourage everyone while broadening the audience. We want the art to get to people who have never been in an art gallery. We found a way to make it happen.
How do you pick the artist you work with? What are some of the attributes you look for?
Heart & Soul. I can tell by their sincerity, integrity, and sense of art about life. For me, it’s not about academic art per se. I look for art where you don’t have to read the essay to understand the work. It’s not art about art for us, it’s about generous art, art about life. It’s about positive, vibrant, immediate, and urgent work. All these words describe how I can sense the artist to work with.
How do you go about setting up the gallery programming and setting up shows?
I schedule the shows in a strategic way to present the artist in the most suitable way; I may put a show out that is important and would make money, but then after, mix in a show that may not make as much money but is important nonetheless.
I try to present the work in way where it could achieve the greatest amount of success, which may mean that I would advise an artist on what works might be received and sell well. For example, it’s easier to sell a 4 x 6 painting than a 30ft painting. I offer small considerations. I mean, the artist wants to get their work out there too. An artist does not want to have their work sit in storage or be sent back to their studio. They want to get their work out there, so I help them get their work out there. My aim is help the artist sustain themselves; help them to get an apartment or go back to grad school…We are in it together.
What do artist want?
Artist want critical success, but at the sametime, they want to sell art as well. I am apart of their team
At the end of the road, what would be the story or legacy you would like to leave behind?
The road is just starting, I really don’t plan beyond two years in advance. What I really want to do is build these artists careers, so ten years from now, their work is selling for ten times more, they own museums, and they will have their mid career retrospectives. Galleries rise and fall with the person, there will be no Gagosian. The best galleries rise with their generation. Most of the artists we feature are from my generation, where I want all of us to inherit the earth…Maybe like Jeffrey [Deitch] be in a museum, but for me, that is like retiring, so maybe when I’m ready I’ll work in a museum.
What advice would you offer any aspiring artist, curator, director etc?
“Be aware of the cues the [world] is giving you. For me, it was Chris Johanson. I looked up where Chris Johanson showed because I wanted to meet him. He showed at Deitch Project, which I never heard about before. I applied for a job and got hired as a receptionist. After months of answering phones, I decided to go for it myself. I convinced a gallery in Brooklyn to let me put together a show. It was the first show I curated. The show was a such a big success, that I received a New York Times review and was placed above [ironically] a Deitch Project show. A time after, back working at Deitch, Jeffrey stormed in and said, “What am I reading about, you should be doing this here.” Now I was promoted to Director. When Deitch closed, I had the option of relocating with Jeffrey and work in the museum with him. My other option was to take all these people I discovered and move forward with them. People were panicking after Deitch closed. These people asked me to open a gallery. The [world] was telling me to open a gallery, The Hole. The best advice is to be aware of what doors are opening and decide which ones to run through. You shouldn’t have a to fixed idea of what you should do because the [world] might offer a different path. When a door is open, you have the type of ego to reject what the [world] is telling you to do.
For more on The Hole go to, www.theholenyc.com