Micro-Interview: Kat Greifen
Q&A with Purchase Alumna Kat Griefen
What have to been up to since graduation from Purchase?
I’ve been the co-director/co-owner of Accola Griefen in New York City since 2011. Kristen Accola and I are private dealers working with modern and contemporary women artists. Previously, from 2006 until 2011, I was the Director of A.I.R. Gallery, the first all-women’s gallery in the US that opened in 1972. I have organized and curated more than thirty exhibitions and projects at art fairs, many that have been reviewed in publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Art in America and ARTnews, among others. I have also been a Senior Lecturer at Rutgers University, New Brunswick through the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities for five years, and have also taught in the Graduate Program in Liberal Studies at Rutgers University, Camden. I am currently a Lecturer at Queensborough Community College in the Art & Design Department – focusing on Gallery and Museum Studies. Additionally, I’m a National Committee member for The Feminist Art Project (TFAP), a founding NYC member of the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD), and a member of the Feminist Art Council for the Brooklyn Museum.
What got you started in art history?
My father, John Adams Griefen, is a second-generation Abstract Expressionist or Color Field painter. My mother started out as a photographer and studied with Diane Arbus and Lisette Model, then worked with her best friend, Barbara Kruger, at Mademoiselle early in her career before I was born. They took me to a lot of museums when I was young, but it took me a while to get interested on my own terms (although I have always loved art). I also had an incredible teacher in high school, Yarrott Benz, who taught photography and art history and at Purchase, Elizabeth Guffey, Jane Kromm and Paul Kaplan kept me interested. But I’m not an art historian, as I have mostly taught Gender Studies and Gallery and Museum Studies, which cross over into art history. While I do research, write and publish, I am more involved with programming, curating and organizing.
Can you describe your most current work in the field, including your work that contributed to winning the Women’s Caucus for Art’s President’s Award for Art and Activism?
Recently, with Maria Hupfield and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, I was a co-chair and co-organizer of the 11th Feminist Art Project Day of Panels as part of the College Art Association. The program was called Crossroads: Art and Native Feminisms. (See http://feministartproject.rutgers.edu/calendar/view/5251/) The participants were incredible – women coming from two different countries and at least 15 different tribes and nations to share their work, their curatorial projects and their stories. The work being done by contemporary Native American artists, particularly female artists, is very exciting right now.
I’m also very involved with building the Gallery and Museum Studies program at Queensborough Community College where I teach. It is a pretty special program as it is one of the few affordable entry points into the field. It’s a small, very diverse and committed group of students. We spend a lot of our class time doing work and having conversations at museums and galleries throughout New York City.
I’m not really sure I know why I received the award, although I am sure it is related to my ongoing commitment to working with women and marginalized communities whose compelling art and cultural production deserve more notice. Because the award was for Art and Activism, I took it as a call to further action. I hadn’t been as involved in political and social movements outside of work as I was when I was younger, but that has definitely changed in the last year. Hearing about the upcoming award was a nice push in the right direction. I’m involved with a cross-CUNY Sanctuary coalition of sorts. As an educator, I fully support the rights of undocumented students to an education and to live free from the fear of deportation.
What was the best lesson you learned at Purchase?
I’m still close with a group of about ten women, who also graduated from Purchase, who I see regularly. Many of us were in an activist group and were involved in what was ultimately a successful campaign to assist the campus food-service workers with the opportunity to join a union. There were many faculty that were supportive of this student-and-worker lead effort. Working with the faculty, the campus workers and my peers, I learned how to be an ally, the power of collaboration, and even organizing and public relations. Through this work, I learned about leadership, and even that sometimes one has to lead from behind.
Where are you at now? i.e. new scholarly institutions, careers, projects etc.
My business, Accola Griefen, is preparing for an upcoming art fair. I am working with my Gallery and Museum Studies students at QCC on an exhibition regarding barriers and boarders. I’ve also been working on divestment materials for folks who want to take their money out of banks that fund the Dakota Access Pipeline and other pipeline projects. This is a feminist issue as much as one about protecting the planet and the rights of indigenous communities, as there has been a 150% rise in sexual violence against Native American women in communities adjacent to pipeline projects.
Interview conducted by Chloe Pocock, February 2017