Filling the Hole: Deitch Protégé Kathy Grayson Brings Monet’s Garden Into Her Gallery

And lots of emerging artists

  • In January 2010, when Mr. Deitch shocked his staff with the news that he’d be decamping for Los Angeles, he asked Ms. Grayson if she wanted to come along. “He said I could be a young project art curator, doing an emerging art show in a small part of the museum twice a year,” Ms. Grayson recalled. Another option he gave her was to “take over the younger part of his business.”

    Settling on the latter option, she reasoned that the best way to discover and promote new talent was with a commercial gallery of her own. She teamed up with Meghan Coleman, a fellow Deitch director; Tony Goldman, a real estate developer and friend of Mr. Deitch’s, gave them a deal on a space in a building he owned on Greene Street, in Soho, near Deitch. They could have it rent-free for seven months, provided they covered maintenance costs. After some hitches with funding, they opened the Hole in late June, shortly after Deitch closed for good, with the group show “Not Quite Open for Business.”

    In its first few months, the Hole was a small operation, just Ms. Grayson, Ms. Coleman and a receptionist. Ms. Coleman handled logistics—accounting, installation, management of the space—and Ms. Grayson took charge of the curatorial program and artist relations. The plan was to debut 20 new artists in the first two years.

    Soon, however, she was going it alone. In January 2011, Ms. Coleman realized that, as she put it, she wasn’t cut out for the commercial gallery world, and took a job with Mr. Goldman. The following month, Ms. Grayson went through with a planned move to the Hole’s present Bowery location, which, at 7,000 square feet spread over two floors, tripled the size of Greene Street.

    There, she’s gotten into her groove with a Deitch-like penchant for showmanship, and spectacle. In December, at her opening for a show of paintings by Lola Montes Schnabel, painter Julian’s daughter, Ms. Grayson styled herself into a walking artwork—bright mauve hair, floor-length pleated skirt—and stood imperiously at the door greeting guests like Courtney Love, Francesco Clemente, Waris Ahluwalia and Salman Rushdie. “This is not your normal opening,” an art historian was heard to remark.

    Earlier that month, at the Nada art fair in Miami, she’d taken two booths side by side, stocked them with identical configurations of artworks, and staffed them with identical twins, then hosted a blowout concert by the band Salem, poolside at South Beach’s Delano Hotel, complete with strippers doing pole dances. A man waded into the pool, asked for a lap dance, and got one.

    “I support and appreciate her Peggy Guggenheim bohemian approach,” said the art adviser Rachel Greene. “I wish more people did it. If everyone is just going to get a degree in arts administration from Sotheby’s, what’s the point?”

    The Hole’s Kunsthalle-like, antiprofessional vibe has raised eyebrows. “She has sponsors, she has a store, she doesn’t represent artists in the traditional sense and operates more as a project space,” said a Lower East Side gallery owner. “I’m jealous. I only have 700 square feet.”

    But the Hole, Ms. Grayson insists, is not a project space. “There are a lot of galleries called ‘projects’ these days, but they’re not,” she said. “Jeffrey ran a project space. He personally invested in these huge installations that were not for sale, unless you really wanted to buy it. Jeffrey owned it.” Mr. Deitch is well-known to have supported his business by doing large deals in the secondary, or resale, art market. “He was a private art dealer who wanted to offer people this chance to make a dream project come true.”

    “The Hole is an emerging art gallery,” she said. “We show the best young art here. There are lots of galleries like Marlborough that are trying to reinvent themselves with all these emerging artists. But largely, no. They have an existing stable of artists. They’re not adding super young people. That’s really my domain.”

    Ms. Grayson represents a handful of artists, including Ms. Schnabel, Holton Rower, Sayre Gomez, Matthew Stone and Eric Yahnker. She shows Ben Jones and Evan Gruzis, both of whom, along with Ms. Pfahler, used to show with Deitch. Inevitably, and, Ms. Grayson said, understandably, the more prominent Deitch artists signed with major dealers: Tauba Auerbach, whom Ms. Grayson had brought to Mr. Deitch’s attention back in 2005, went with Paula Cooper. “It was obvious that taking over the Deitch business was not what I was doing,” Ms. Grayson said.

    But connections to former Deitch colleagues have come in handy. For a year and a half, onetime fellow director Nicola Vassell was a director at blue-chip behemoth the Pace Gallery. During that time, Pace’s London branch began working with Aurel Schmidt, who has shown at the Hole. And Ms. Vassell brought Mr. Rower, who’d been in a group show at Pace, to Ms. Grayson’s attention. He’ll have his first show at the Hole in May.

    She’s also maintained a friendship with Suzanne Geiss, another former Deitch colleague who, Ms. Grayson explained, was “the real business partner behind the scenes” and who now runs her own gallery in the former Deitch headquarters on Grand Street. Before opening the Hole, Ms. Grayson said she went to Ms. Geiss for “crucial” advice. “She advises lots of great collections,” Ms. Grayson said. “She has bought work at the Hole, for her people.”

    Ms. Grayson said her own collectors tend to be young, and that around half of them followed her from Deitch. “She has a very strong voice in her writing,” said Laura O’Reilly, the Hole’s associate director. “This kind of ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude that a traditional academic consultant may not fully want to promote because it goes against the doctrine that they use to help sell to their clients.”

    But according to an art world observer who asked to remain anonymous, moving artworks isn’t exactly Ms. Grayson’s top priority. “Kathy doesn’t sell work,” this person said. “She doesn’t give a shit about money. She lives it. If [fashion designer] Johan Lindeberg sent her an email wanting to buy a $50,000 painting, she probably wouldn’t email him back. But if he invited her to a dinner, she’d be there in a second.” In addition to selling artwork, she relies on exhibition sponsors, many of them brought in by the Hole’s creative director, socialite Fabiola Beracasa. (The Giverny show is sponsored by Playboy.com.) The Hole also has financial backers, including Jeff Vespa, cofounder of WireImage.