Kathy Grayson

Photograph by Hikari Yokoyama

Anywhere else, she’d be called a prodigy, but in the gallery world she’s simply known as one kickass curator. Hand-picked at the tender age of 22 by art impresario Jeffrey Deitch, Kathy Grayson is one of the directors of Deitch Projects, the SoHo-based gallery specializing in the next generation of street-inflected artwork. Ostensibly, the young directrix is responsible for managing the “gallery’s relationship to emerging artists,” but don’t be fooled by the demure job description. Much more than a talent scout or business liaison, Grayson has instinctively tapped into the raucous yet vibrant artistic community that is revitalizing the New York art scene. For those in the know, this should come as little surprise since the Dartmouth graduate is less of an outsider than a fellow co-conspirator who, on any given night, can keep up with the best of them (including all the boys).

Grayson has proven to be the gallery’s secret weapon, not just cataloging so-called “counter-movements,” but participating in the emerging zeitgeist. With heels planted firmly at the epicenter, she traces the logic that connects disparate players such as artist Chris Johanson, the collective Forcefield, and, yes, even Avenue D. Her invaluable firsthand knowledge has yielded some breakthrough projects, including collaborations with Dash Snow and Dan Colen. And perhaps most notably, she co-edited the colorful tome Live Though This: NYC 2005, which reads as a virtual Who’s Who of the new New York vanguard. Covering art, music and fashion, the volume touts the arrival of a disparate group of artists who, along with Grayson, are taking to the streets and shaking things up. But be warned, this is not art for the weak of heart or tame of spirit. It’s Art as a practice of the everyday: dirty, exhilarating and brazenly irreverent.

SOMA caught up with Grayson as she was recovering from the gallery’s annual art parade and prepares for an upcoming season of shows.

What first drew you to art back at Dartmouth?
The cultural protest potential of art: fuck frat bankers to death in the head!

Perhaps more importantly, what keeps you in art today?
A little bit of “fuck the law” and a lot of community building.

It may not be a well-known fact, but you’re an artist yourself (I’ve peeked at some of your wonderful work at your apartment). How does this background as an artist affect your curatorial practice?
I can sympathize, boy! I can sympathize. With the whole process, you know?

And is it a choice between curating and practicing art?
All art, all the time. I mean, sometimes I’m late for work because of the after-after-party, and sometimes I’m late for work because I stayed up all night painting a table.

You are well-known for having very close relationships with your artists and their colorful lifestyles, which in many ways makes you unique and an invaluable asset to any galley. You’re not an outsider, but a co-conspirator. Is this important to you?
I like to make out in bathrooms and closets—is that what you mean? Not too many closets in New York City though, no?

Are there any drawbacks to this closeness?
Oh man. [laughs] Don’t make me answer that! No, but if by colorful lifestyle you mean drugs, crime and all the naughtiness, then yeah, there are mega-drawbacks to that shit. And it takes a lot—sometimes more than I’ve got—to keep it together.

Is there such a thing as “cool” and “uncool” art?
Art that is sincere and infused with radical values and bold will always be cool. Fuck ironic art and the ironists who iron it!

Deitch is definitely drawn to what might be called “street” or street-influenced art. Is art’s connection to other subcultures a key for you? Can there be such a thing as l’art pour l’art? And if so, would you even want to look at it?
Art for the people. Art to make your friends psyched! Then you’ll never go wrong.

There’s definitely a difference between the so-called “downtown” art scene and Chelsea. How would you characterize it? And is it even relevant?
Chelsified art bores me to tears, with very few exceptions. They are on a whole different bummer-trip—it would take a whole essay to classify the difference. But rad dealers like Javier Peres, Chris Perez and John Connelly are making for a real dent. And of course the best art doesn’t always happen in art galleries. Amazing shops like A-ron’s aNYthing and Hannah’s Little Cakes are totally doing it. Even Giant Robot has had some cool shows.

Warhol virtually invented the art star, although arguably it’s been around much longer. Do you think we’re still enthralled by the art star? And if so, what’s the effect on art?
I just wrote a 4,000-word essay on Warhol’s “Skulls” and “Hammer and Sickles” for P Rubenstein’s catalog tracing exactly what the Warhol is that the youth is down with nowadays. Fuck “art star”—sorry JD—but the reality of this crazy celebstorm that descends on the very young and very creative is real. It has picked off maybe one out of 20 of my friends. Which still leaves me 19 rad, real, no-bullshit friends, and that is something great.

Any artists you’re particularly excited about?
Dash Snow is the best artist right now hands down. It’s realer than people can even learn how to imagine. Ben Jones is going to revolutionize all the media. And Brendan Fowler’s new album is going to blow everyone away. And always and forever Chris Johanson. If I gave you the real, real new-never-heard-of-yet list of the next thing, you know, I’d have to charge you.

Do you think you’ll ever get tired of it? Or maybe the question should be: where do you turn for inspiration when you do get tired of it?
I’m getting tired of the self-destructive part of this scene, for sure. And it’s for-real hard to keep your head above black-death water here, so recently I’ve been looking outside of New York for some optimism and energy, looking to the West Coast and my team over there.

– Franklin Melendez

Reading by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Kathy Grayson.

1. Charismatic. This person will attract others and be seen as beautiful, regardless of their actual physical features. The charisma pulls everything else together and makes it appear perfect.

2. A very intense and spiritual individual. Occasionally prone to bouts of religious ecstasy. This won’t be about what everyone else necessarily considers “religion.” However—they’d make a fine whirling dervish!

3. (Skin texture) Startles easily but ducks quickly. This is a survival characteristic in difficult places (such as war zones) but may cause some wear and tear on physical surroundings in supermarkets and china shops and on their nervous system.

4. Magical. She will surprise her friends and relations by being able to wish for things and have them occur and manifest. This will mostly manifest in small things like good weather for a picnic, a particular color of shirt or the perfect Christmas gift for weird old Auntie Ethel.

5. A love of truth and justice. Love of fairness. Perceives falsehood as the only “real sin.” Wants to know the truth of all the secrets of the universe. Recognizes that it is unknowable—and will try to know them anyway.

6. Somewhat frail physically. Will need to take vitamins, wear a sweater and do practical things to support the body. May not always remember to do such things themselves and will need somebody to remind them.

7. This person cannot lie. Do not ask them “do I look fat in this?” unless you really want to know the truth.

8. Will have a really good marriage beginning in her mid- to late 30s or early 40s that will last and be totally satisfying.

9. Will love intensely and deeply—but not always wisely or practically.