“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.