At Home With
Gregory Krum, photographer and Cooper-Hewitt director of retail

“I was so dim,” says Greg Krum. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and Krum, best known around New York as retail director of the wonderfully quirky Shop at Cooper-Hewitt, is puttering around the sun-drenched kitchen of a renovated 1890s townhouse he shares with two roommates in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He’s trying to recall the origins of his other career: that of a photographer about to mount his first solo show this May at New York’s Jen Bekman gallery. “Growing up, I was always attracted to making art, but I didn’t think I could do it because I couldn’t draw. I was like, ‘Okay. That’s out.’ Then I finally realized it’s not about that. It’s about living a life of ideas.”

That revelation arrived in the 1990s, but it took Krum years to come to terms with his own work. At college in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, Krum studied design, sculpture, and biology, and after completing what he calls an “über-theoretical” master’s program in photography at NYU and the ICP, Krum temporarily put away his camera. “I liken a master’s in art almost to chemotherapy. It could kill you. Or you could actually benefit from it. But I had to take a break, and that’s when I started working for Murray.”

By Murray, Krum means Moss, who was his boss and mentor in the Greene Street gallery and shop’s late-’90s launch heyday. Krum was retail director there for five years, and when he left, he was almost immediately snatched up by the Cooper-Hewitt to redesign its museum shop. “When I came in, it was borrowed fixtures, plastic racks, weird interventions — just wrong. We threw everything away and started from scratch,” Krum says of the now-beloved display shelving he commissioned from the Swiss modular furniture manufacturer USM. “Now I’m there three months of the year, and the rest of the time I work remotely. I basically treat the shop like an art project. I’m obsessing over the adjacencies and I go crazy over how the titles of books are organized. For me, there’s a narrative thread through the whole store, but no one else can see it, of course.”

Someone at the Cooper-Hewitt was taking notice, however, and last fall Krum was given the go-ahead to curate his first exhibition for the museum, the recently completed “Quicktake: Rodarte.” A small showcase of 17 looks by the Los Angeles–based fashion label run by sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy, the exhibition focused on the theme of destruction. “They’re obsessed with texture and chaos and dilapidation, so we did three platforms, each with its own texture identity,” says Krum. “A beige platform was over-painted 10 times then sanded back down to the drywall so you could see the layers, and the black looks were displayed in this burnt-out room that basically looked like piles of rubble.”

Krum’s own exhibition at Jen Bekman — called “Practice,” on view beginning May 15 — also focuses on deconstruction, in this case of the process of art-making. “It’s about those things that become true only if you believe in them,” says Krum. “Religion, obviously, is one of them, and what started it is a series of still-lifes I took in Bali of these incredible offerings. It cycles back around to the idea of art-making, which requires a tremendous amount of faith in and of itself. But I don’t want to get too esoteric about that.” Krum recently took time out from preparing the exhibition to show us around his home, which between the photography, the retail background, the obsession with art, and the general polymath aspirations, makes for a perfectly appointed interior.


Working since the late-’90s as retail director for two of New York’s design meccas has afforded Krum plenty of luxuries — perhaps none more jealousy-inducing than his access to design’s eccentric leftovers. On the top right shelf is a camel from Verner Panton’s short-lived Pantonaef series of modular toys, created in 1975 for the Swiss manufacturer Naef. “It’s totally not for kids,” Krum says. “It has these tiny pieces you think you might choke on. It was a gift from Jack Feldman, who used to own the design gallery Form + Function on Vandam Street, and, interestingly, also wrote the lyrics for Barry Manilow's 'Copacabana.'”


Other acquisitions on display: Ettore Sottsass’s condiment set for Alessi, an out-of-production teapot by Richard Sapper, glassware by Deborah Ehrlich, and an ashtray from the Hill Club in Sri Lanka. “It’s a hotel and club meant to look just like an English castle — lots of old guys in white gloves and a men’s-only bar,” says Krum.


“I’m a little obsessed with Enzo Mari,” Krum says of his two green 1970s-era Box chairs by the Italian designer. “That’s actually why I used that green color for the Cooper shop. All of the people I love — all the Italians in the late ’60s and early ’70s like Enzo Mari and Achille Castiglioni — used that green in the most amazing ways. It came to signify the toughest, coolest work from that era.”


Krum keeps a small, meticulously organized closet, so his shoes instead get tucked discreetly into every nook and cranny of the living room. Of the stiff, resin-coated Marcel Wanders Knotted Chair, Krum says, “If you put a pillow on it, it’s really nice, but I mostly use it as a bag holder.”


Krum spends six months of the year in Hong Kong, where his boyfriend Judd — merchandise director for the high-end accessories boutique On Pedder — is based. There, he has suit jackets made to order with this inscription, as well as dress shirts with the monogram GOJ: Greg or Judd.


On the mantle, a readymade candle mash-up by the young New York design trio Rich Brilliant Willing reminds Krum of one of his favorite sculptors, Isa Genzken. “She has this amazing color palette — cheap metallics and paint.”


One of Krum’s prized possessions: a signed copy of Asakusa Portraits by Hiroh Kikai, a Japanese photographer who spent more than 30 years photographing single subjects in an area northeast of Tokyo. “The captions are like little poems,” Krum says. “‘A man in a coat he said was made from the pelts of 28 raccoons.’ ‘A man who said he had just had a drunken quarrel.’ ‘A man who came on the wrong day thinking this was the day of the fireworks show.’ You just get lost in the rhythm.”


The most elaborate millwork we've seen this side of the Mason-Dixon.


Before he moved the bed in, Krum used the room’s darkly painted walls as a backdrop for a series of dust still-lifes he shot, which were inspired by artist Vija Celmins' drawings of the night sky. The bedside table is by Gaetano Pesce.


The bed was custom-made by USM from the same off-the-shelf tubular steel and sheet-metal parts that were used to create the displays at the Cooper-Hewitt shop. “USM had never thought to make a bed, but you can literally make anything with that system. They ran out of red ones, I guess," Krum says of the lone green cube peeking out from underneath.


On the bedside table sits the roughly hacked sculpture Krum dubbed Chainsaw Kitty, which used to be part of the decor at one of his favorite Greenpoint eateries. “We were obsessed with it, and then it disappeared one day, and we were like, ‘Where's Chainsaw Kitty?'" he says. "Turned out the restaurant had a new manager who'd come in and removed all the cool stuff, so we rescued it.”


An invitation in the form of a View-Master, courtesy of fashion designer Martin Margiela, who collaborated with Krum and artist Tobias Wong on their 2007 conceptual pop-up shop and retail prank, The Wrong Store. Inspired by the artist Maurizio Cattelan’s The Wrong Gallery — an expensive-looking door in Chelsea that read ‘Fuck off, we’re closed’ — the shop’s conceit was that it was never open, and its wares were only visible through the windows.


The Belgian fashion house created Sporting Goods for the shop, a series consisting of a cotton-covered soccer ball, football, and tennis ball.


After so many years in retail, Krum doesn’t buy much these days. “Frankly, I’m de-accessioning,” he jokes. The exception? He comes home from most Paris excursions with a fragrance by the French perfumer Annick Goutal.


Subtle evidence of what Krum calls his "weird obsession with organization."

blue painting

“Actually, what I buy now is art. I just got a Fred Sandback print, his first one from 1970,” says Krum, and the house is likewise filled with work by Elizabeth Peyton, Karen Kilimnik, Lily Ludlow, and Brian DeGraw. It's also sprinkled with anonymous paintings, like this thrift-store find.


The third floor is the realm of Krum’s roommates Tommy Dobryzynski and Benjamin Sturgill, whose obsessions with plants and sailing inform the upstairs décor.


The googly-eyed plant is Dobryzynski’s homage to a Saturday Night Live skit starring Christopher Walken: "Indoor Gardening Tips From a Man Who’s Very Scared of Plants."


Other works the three roommates have amassed over the years: two editions from the Perverts series from American Fine Arts (center) and two prints from the 2009 Mills & Boon vintage cover-art exhibition at Paul Smith's Space gallery in Tokyo (far left).


Chateau Pool, one of several of Krum’s own photographs that are scattered throughout the house. The photo, taken at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont, sold out its 2008 edition at Jen Bekman.


In the hallway, more Moss merchandise — Ineke Hans's Black Gold porcelain series — and Sturgill's sailboat-themed ephemera.


Krum's small obsession with The Smiths plays out in the corner of a bookshelf above his desk. "That book Morrissey and Marr is kind of trashy, but it's great."


Krum in his office and living room. To the left is an "I Square Judd" bumper sticker, co-opted from the Donald Judd foundation in honor of his boyfriend. Behind him is a photo he took at the opening ceremonies for a Beijing conference he attended while briefly working for the UN in the '90s. "My work is so weird because I had to unlearn all these rules and make it my own, and it took forever to own that. But now I'm really comfortable with it, and I love the off junky-ness of it."