Kathy Grayson stares intently at several large paintings, trying to decide if they complement each other on the huge wall in front of her. She absentmindedly twists her light purple hair to either side of her face and ties it in a bun under her chin like a bonnet. It stays there for a moment before landing back on her shoulders.
“I don’t know if that works,” she says of an abstract work with deep gray tones. “Maybe it’s too dark.”
Grayson stands on the polished concrete floor amidst her contemporary art gallery, The Hole, which has opened a branch on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles just over a year ago. This is Grayson’s third location. She opened her first at the Bowery in New York City in 2010 and another at the TriBeCa in 2021.
On this temperate Friday afternoon, Grayson is overseeing the installation of a group exhibit titled “Storage Wars” — a nod to the A&E Auction Battle TV competition series — which is slated to open the following evening. A group of about six workers cavort in the room, and the sound of screws being drilled into the plaster rips the air. The 9,000-square-foot gallery is filled with plywood shipping crates designed for storing, protecting, and transporting artworks.
However, these boxes are not intended for removal. Instead, they provide the literal framework for the work in the exhibition, which Grayson organized to highlight art that has long been in boxes and hidden from admiring gaze.
Individual artworks can spend an inordinate amount of time in boxes — that’s the art world’s dirty little not-so-secret secret, says Grayson. It happens when pieces in museums and galleries are no longer in circulation; after a collector acquires a work and has no wall space for it; or while pieces travel between art fairs, where they are only on view for a few days before being re-crated and shipped to another location.
For Storage Wars, Grayson launched a community-building project involving gallery owners, collectors, and artists across the city, asking them to unbox and share one of their favorite pieces of art that had been hidden for too long. She wasn’t sure what reaction she would get, but was thrilled to find that she was generous and enthusiastic, with more than 80 attendees sharing work that was rarely or never seen publicly.
Collectors such as Sue Hancock, Jason Swartz and Hooman Dayani took part, as did galleries Nino Mier, Nicodim and Gavlak, and artists Pedro Pedro, KAWS and Lisa Anne Auerbach, each offering a personal favorite from their own collection.
When the exhibition begins early Saturday evening, the gallery walls are adorned with a hodgepodge of eclectic artworks, each peeping out of the circumstances of its former plywood prison. The sculptures are simply stacked on the crates in which they were delivered. The crowd of art lovers sip sake from square wooden boxes, in keeping with the evening’s theme.
Just after 8 p.m., a select group of guests stroll into the 2,500-square-foot kitchen just off the main gallery for a celebratory family-style dinner, prepared by Grayson’s gallery partner, Raymond Bulman. Elegant and extremely tall, Bulman is a very personable art lover who attended business school in Rome and has long made a habit of entertaining artists and their friends after shows in New York.
With the Hole in LA, he now has an on-site kitchen that allows him to take his love of hosting and considerable cooking skills to the next level. Saturday’s menu includes focaccia with whipped ricotta, mortadella with grated parmigiana, fregola sarda alle vongole, rigatoni amatriciana and boneless chicken with caper, anchovy and parsley sauce.
“Everyone has to be excited for these things to have energy,” Bulman says of gallery openings. “And so serving dinner is a big part of that. For me it’s fun. After a show I can receive people and hang out with my artists.”
Bulman and Grayson believe in nurturing an artist community that is infectious in its creativity. During dinner, guests chat about their current projects at Negronis (stunning!) as plate after plate is passed.
Michele Lorusso, a young artist from Mexico City, talks about an art and poetry project he is working on with activists in Skid Row; a gallery owner confers with a collector; and painter Vanessa Prager points to a friend she hasn’t seen in ages.
“Kathy has an artist’s mindset when it comes to her curation,” says Prager. “She will turn a show into a work of art and this is a good example of that. It’s fun and has such a good spirit.”
In transforming the Hole into an offshore operation, Grayson wants her gallery to live up to the aspirations of her artists and provide them with fresh and inspiring places to show their work. Pedro says that when he first exhibited it at her LA gallery, “he was scared because it was so huge.” But it represents an exciting opportunity, he says.
Grayson grew up in Washington, DC. Her parents were scientists and she attended Sidwell Friends School, where Chelsea Clinton was her lab partner. She later enrolled at Dartmouth, began her medical studies and played tennis. In her sophomore year, she switched majors and sports, majoring in art history and becoming a rugby team captain.
While studying at Dartmouth she founded the first student art gallery. She named it “Area” because, as she says, she had to fight with the administration for space and in the end it only gave her a single wall. She started a fundraiser to fund a second wall. For her first exhibition, she printed out all the emails needed to build the wall and titled the project Wall With the E-trail of Its Own Making, in homage to a work by Robert Morris from the Year 1961 entitled “Box With the Sound of His Own Creation.” Administration was not impressed and Grayson says she was called before the Disciplinary Committee for the release of confidential information.
The experience brought out the burgeoning iconoclast in her, and while working as an intern for the 2002 Whitney Biennial, curated by Lawrence Rinder, she was fascinated by collectives of interdisciplinary artists who came from outside established art schools. Groups like Forcefield, made up of artists who dropped out of the Rhode Island School of Design, worked and lived in Fort Thunder, an abandoned warehouse converted into an underground venue with a refrigerator door that opens to another room. They created knitted costumes, 3D video art, paintings, installations and sculptures. They also played in a noise band.
“That’s the vibe I brought to Deitch Projects,” Grayson says of art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch’s New York gallery, which initially hired her as a receptionist and quickly promoted her to curator and director when it emerged she had one Art sales skills.
Grayson stayed with Deitch until it closed in 2010, when its namesake was appointed director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Backed by friends and fans, including photographer and WireImage co-founder Jeff Vespa-turned-early-investor, Grayson founded The Hole and named it after a club and lesbian bar she describes as “really lawless.” It was closed in 2004, as all truly lawless spaces eventually do.
Thirteen years later, The Hole represents 25 artists including Pedro, Alex Gardner, Matt Hansel, Caitlin Cherry and Vickie Vainionpaa.
Despite its expanded footprint, Grayson says The Hole remains true to its original mission: to meet artists where they work and live to further expand the community aspect of making art.
“Artists organize themselves into interesting groups that become movements, and the best part of being a curator is not to pick from nothing, but to support what the artists are already doing,” she says.
Grayson pauses when asked what she’s learned over the years, including from her formative years at Deitch.
“Art should be for everyone,” she says, adding that she hopes to continue to eliminate aspects of contemporary art culture that make people feel intimidated and unwelcome. “You should use your art gallery to expand the art audience. Everyone should have the opportunity to enter a contemporary art gallery and have a meaningful art experience. It should be as popular as music or literature.”
Where: The Hole, 844 N. La Brea Ave., LA
If: Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
The information: (323) 297-3288, thehole.com