Last June, when Jeffrey Deitch shuttered his multi-borough art empire, Deitch Projects, to take over the directorship of LA’s MoCA, a giant vortex opened into which all things gritty, challenging, and—dare we say—cool about the downtown New York art scene disappeared. Now, two former Projects directors, Meghan Coleman (pictured right) and Kathy Grayson, are attempting to stop the cultural outflow with their Greene Street gallery, the Hole. “We liked the idea of filling that hole with the Hole,” says Grayson. “The world doesn’t need another Chelsea gallery—it needs something weird and different.” To Deitch, Grayson brought a roster of artists—Dan Colen, Terence Koh, the late Dash Snow—who for a moment defined the streets-inspired, druggy undercurrent of the contemporary scene. While Colen and Snow’s befouled "Hamster Nest" installation was a critical success, “for every show I did at Deitch, there were five shows I wanted to do,” says Grayson, who would rather support “a group of kids who live in Virginia Beach making thrift-store junk piles and pop paintings” than “the most recent Yale graduate who makes conceptual sculpture.”
The Hole’s first exhibition, “Not Quite Open for Business,” went up just six weeks after Coleman and Grayson got the keys to their new space. It displayed works in various phases of completion in the still-unfinished gallery rooms, which stack behind each other like a Greenpoint shotgun apartment. Grayson explains, “If you want to change the art world, you have to open a gallery or inherit ten million dollars. We wanted to have an impact on the community.” When I visited the gallery in November, Kenny Scharf and Virginia Beach-collective Dearraindrop had transformed the rooms into a psychotic-psychedelic profusion of neon clutter. Grayson noticed a Dearraindrop painting hanging in the café at the back of the gallery with an inky dribble darkening its seizure-inducing stripes. Taking her sleeve, she daubed at the stain. “It’s okay,” she said. “It comes off with a little spit.” Here are Grayson and Coleman on Deitch’s shadow, dating services for lonely artists, and why you need to quit your assistant gig at the New Museum if you’re serious about art.
The name “The Hole,” what was the inspiration? Kathy Grayson: All the articles about Deitch closing talked about the hole that he was leaving in the downtown scene, so we liked the idea of filling that hole with The Hole. There was also a club I used to go on 2nd avenue. It was where tough graffiti dudes and lesbians and weird trannies and all the different little pockets of strange New York people would come together. It was totally trashed and tagged up, and it was just a fantastic example of New York community. The name was available because they closed in 2004. We didn’t want to call the gallery “a gallery” because we didn’t want to focus on the physical space, having a place to exhibit art. We wanted it to be a community service center, shop, cafe, activities, performances…
A place that has a more active role in the community. KG: We had all these lofty hopes about all these events we were going to do: free sandwiches every months, and call it Hole Foods; a dating service for lonely, sad artists — because there are a lot of them — and call it Hole lot of Love. Just coming up with things people in the community want in a playful way. But we need much more staff if we want to do the things we want to do.
Do you feel understaffed? KG: I don’t think we’re understaffed. We’re just very ambitious and have a lot of projects. If we were just a simple gallery selling art that would be one thing, but we want to do everything.
Are you modeling yourselves after any other galleries? KG: I think the art world is filled with dinosaur, out-dated models of how to do stuff. Gallery-ship, as a concept, has changed over the centuries. The way the market is today, the way that communication is today, and digital media in general, the way that people act, the interdisciplinary nature of collectors and curators — there’s so much crossover that galleries need to evolve to accommodate this sort of hybrid nature. There’s a lot of co-mingling, which is a sign that this is a vibrant moment in the art world. Most galleries have a really out-dated, traditional way of curating shows. Deitch was at the cutting-edge of doing things a different way, but there are even innovations on the Deitch model that we want to implement. Like, we’re expanding to Wynwood Walls in Miami, and we’re going to have an iPhone app that you can use to have this guided educational tour with interactive links and images. It sounds simple and trendy, but that’s an effective educational and marketing tool that galleries have got to take advantage of.
Do you believe we’re currently experiencing a vibrant moment for art in New York? You often hear the opposite. KG: Yeah, I don’t know what these people are talking about. It’s so weird. Jeffrey came of age in the 80s, which was a moment when music got good again, when artists were doing fashion designs for their friend’s play — it was networked, collaborative crossover. Graffiti, hip hop, the East Village scene. Everyone was coming together in a radical way. I can’t talk about that era because I was, like, zero years old, but the reason Jeffrey was so excited about what I was bringing to the gallery is because he feels like that moment in New York is happening again, and that the downtown scene reinvigorates itself every 20 years or so. I’m doing a curatorial project at a museum in Moscow that’s called “New York Minute,” and it’s 60 artists from this community. It could be called “New York 15 Minutes,” it could be a thousand artists, but they’re 60 fantastic artists that all know each other, who are in shows together, who make zines together, who are in bands together. There’s a ton of action, there’s a ton of talent — it’s just a sad thing that most galleries don’t pick up on it.
What kind of artists are you looking to represent? KG: Our approach is that we like artists who really live the art, that come from different backgrounds and different lifestyles. It’s not just the most recent Yale graduate who makes conceptual sculpture; it’s a group of kids who live in Virginia Beach that make thrift store mound junk piles and pop paintings. It’s people that come from graffiti, that come from music, and they all share a sincerity and an authenticity that you often don’t find in what’s trendy with other galleries.
Is ‘lived art’ a necessary part of a vibrant scene? KG: Yeah, it really breathes new life into what can be a boring cycle of artists who were teachers at grad school who have students who imitate them — just the same kind of theorized, self-conscious art that a lot of people are producing.
If your space is filling the hole that Deitch created when he left for LA, what was the hole the Deitch filled? KG: For every show I did at Deitch, there were five shows I wanted to do. But Deitch filled a very specific area — he connected 80s underground artists to underground artists today, he did shows with Basquiat and Haring, and then he also did shows with Dash and Dan Colen and Terrance Koh, people that I brought to the gallery. He would get the best graphic design, the coolest website — he was like the People’s Choice gallery. We had more people at our openings than any other gallery ever, and it was because Jeffrey had a democratic approach to art, that art is for everybody, that it comes from different walks of life, and that there’s crossover between different disciplines. He’d do fashion shows, burlesque shows, lectures, and screenings. We want to fill that hole because without Jeffrey the art world is so boring. The world doesn’t need another Chelsea gallery. It needs something weird and different, the way that Jeffrey was.
Are you worried about breaking out from his shadow? Meghan Coleman: His shadow is fantastic!
KG: We’re proud of all the stuff that we did when we worked for him, we think he’s fantastic. He’s our mentor, supporter. If anything, we might be a bit weirder. There are things that I wanted to do at Deitch that — I don’t want to say didn’t wrap his head around because his head is enormous, he gets it — but some things just weren’t quite his thing. Like this underground artist in Japan that nobody’s heard of, I want to do a solo show with him so bad, and I showed Jeffrey and he was like, “Ehhh,” so there are some projects we’ll get to do here. We’re going to be emphasizing the younger half of Deitch Projects, so a lot of the signature Deitch artists, famous people like Ken Wiley or Kristin Baker, they need huge galleries with big production budgets to pay for their studio, their assistants, their elaborate stretcher bars. We can’t accommodate those people as much as we’d like to. We want to work with the next generation who are just starting out.
So even if Deitch miraculously moved back, you wouldn’t work there? KG: I would work something out. We’d form some kind of conglomerate. But yeah, I could have worked at Deitch another eight years doing fantastic shows with huge budgets that Jeffrey pulled off paying for.
How did you guys end up working together? KG: Megan was the most important part of the gallery at Deitch. She made all the projects happen. She was the favorite of all the artists because they would come up to her and be like, “I really want to do this like upside down cityscape sculpture,” and she would be like, “Oh, I’ll help you do that,” then figure out how to do it. So if they were like, “Let’s stack 20 vans on top of each other,” she’d be like, “No problem.”
MC: That’s what I do, stack vans.
Have you ever gotten involved with a project and then realize you couldn’t actually execute it? MC: The more difficult the project, the more excited I get, because it’s fun. I’m not an artist, but that’s the thing I enjoyed most about working with Jeffrey, not a regular gallery — you get to do these projects and you get to see these people’s dreams and help them make it come true, even if it’s a small budget or if they only want to use recycled products or something. I built a spaceship out of recycled wood that filled the whole gallery space from a minimal budget.
When Deitch folded, did you have an idea fairly quickly that you wanted to start something new?
KG: I have like PTSD about it still.
MC: I probably would have never left unless Jeffrey left, so…
KG: He was really good about giving credit, so it’s not like you ever felt like you were sucked into his thing. If you curated a show for him you were in a big font, like: CURATED BY. I didn’t want to have to be an art dealer because selling art is a little bit like taking away the fantastic magic of it, it’s a little bit nuts and boltsy. Worrying about paying your electric bill because of the sales. But this is what happens in the art world, people who are curators, either they work in a museum doing nothing for 20 years before they get to curate a show or they open a gallery so they can have an outlet for their creative impulses. In the entirety of the art world, gallery shows are the start, that’s where we can really make an impact. If you give an artist a show, that’s the start of the whole system. Museums take cues from galleries and from collectors who are buying things from the galleries, but the start of it all is the gallery. If you want to change the art world you have to open a gallery or inherit ten million dollars. So, that’s what we wanted to do, have an impact on the community and on the art world. You can’t, like, work at the New Museum as an assistant — you’d do that forever.
You found the space and…
MC: We set everything up in like a month and half.
KG: It was a mad scramble and that’s why our first show was called, “Not Quite Open for Business.” All the art was unfinished and the gallery wasn’t finished. It was actually harder to do that.
MC: It was harder to make everything look unfinished. Because the space is so super slick, so to make a really nice space look unfinished was a lot of work. You can put mirrors in the space to make it look more flashy, but to take it down a notch is harder.
Favorite artists? KG: Every gallery owner’s favorite show is what they have up. You’ve invested your whole heart into it, the sweat of your brow is out there.
Photo by Alexander Wagner; Hair and makeup by William Murphy.