Alexandra Grant recently discovered the real version of her imaginary paradise: an aptly named publishing mecca called Book City, located an hour north of her newly opened painting exhibition at Seoul’s Positive Art Center. Planning her career as a “baby artist” at the California College of the Arts, the 49-year-old realized that no matter how much painting she pursues, literature will always be her No. 1. 1. Since then, she has published many titles through X Artists Books (the printing house she runs with longtime partner and collaborator Keanu Reeves) and has written a number of her own – the most recent being perhaps her most notable to date.
Love: A Visual History of the GrantLOVE Project Chronicling the 14 years Grant has spent selling and producing artworks and editions to help non-profit organizations in the arts. And while a reflection on philanthropy might sound snobby, Grant makes it compelling: She sees it as her responsibility to ensure that issues — both within the system and among its members — are not overlooked. The book is also a portrait of how Grant successfully answered the question she asked herself at the very beginning: “I wanted to be an artist, but also someone who works to give back to civil society – how [is] is it possible to be a civic artist?” Ahead of the December 6 release, Grant reflects on her journey to balance philanthropy and her artistic practice and shares her cultural nutrition questionnaire.
I did not expect the connection between you and you Roxane Gay, who wrote the foreword to the book, that you went to high school together. Then I looked it up and I was like, wait — Mark Zuckerberg was there too?
At Exeter [in New Hampshire], we had this little book called Facebook with everyone’s photos and contact information – sorted alphabetically so Roxane and I were on the same page. When Mark started Facebook at Harvard, we all thought: You just took that thing out of high school and digitized it – what’s so special about that? I have mine somewhere; I found it because Debbie Millman, Roxane’s wife, asked me what she was like [back then].
I was shocked to read that at the time you started grantLOVE and have released so many artist editions since then, you were asked to donate artwork several times a week.
For me, that is the genesis of this project. I’m really a very sensitive person and I know that I would give away more than I had against my own best interests. This is from my childhood: my mother gave me my pocket money and I gave it away to the children on the street. when i started [grantLOVE], I was more of a struggling artist than a working artist. I was looking for a way to be generous, to be a member of civil society through my job, and looked at photographers who thought They are lucky enough to be able to print issues.
The book notably highlights her collaborations with brands like Oscar de la Renta and shines a spotlight on collectors at home with her “Love” works. But it also doesn’t shy away from the troubles you had in projectLOVE’s early years — namely, the dissolution of the Watts House Project non-profit you first worked with and your lawsuit with Cartier over the Love brand.
I’m a terrible liar. But I also feel like the book isn’t just saying these things happened – I didn’t want to shy away from what can happen when you try to do good, which is an idea that can be problematic in itself . There’s a sense of ethical responsibility I felt after these outsized issues [alongside] great success. I learned that Robert Indiana never controlled the intellectual property of his love symbol at Swarthmore, and that sent me to trademarking my love symbol, which then caused more problems for the first few years. but [the Cartier lawsuit] helped me understand that when someone is threatened by you and your thing, you have created something of value.
boarding the culture diet Questions, what do you read first thing in the morning?
I do Duolingo in German; I completed to day 319. In 2020 and 2021 we lived in Berlin – Keanu did The Matrix and John Wick 4, and I was painting for a group show at Carlier Gebauer.
Can we expect another book from both of you?
Yes – we will make a Japanese language version of [Grant and Reeves’s book] Ode to happiness. We got Shuntarō Tanikawa, a very important OG Japanese poet, to translate it.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
I read Sheila Hetis pure colourthe new book by Hélène Cixous Mdeilmm, and a lot Olga Tokarczuk. I’m done Drive your plow over the bones of the dead and now I’m in flights.
What is the last film you saw in the cinema?
tar– and oh my god. Talk about a script, a director and an actor. I have a studio in Berlin and my landlord is a cellist with the Berlin Philharmonic who has given me incredible insight into how this world works.
What is the last piece of art you bought?
A diamond-shaped lamp with spider legs by the wonderful sculptor Jinwoo Kim. I reappeared at the Positive Art Center [in Seoul, where Grant just mounted her first Asia exhibition] held this thing and everyone said: What… Both my parents were folk art collectors, and as a child, my mother came home with a giant wooden alligator.
What was the last song you repeated?
I love “Hotel California.” I see it as a kind of magical song because it’s so ubiquitous and mysterious – I don’t think anyone knows what it’s about. And I love pop music, so there’s a lot of it. For example Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” – for me this song is for bad energy. It works out! [Laughs.] I’ve also been known to play it in groups.
Who is your favorite to follow on Instagram?
There are so many but @jerrygogosian would be my no. 1. And I can’t say I don’t love @upworthy. I like seeing stories about cute dogs and puppies and I like that it shows you that most of the time the news focuses on horrible things rather than what is actually going on.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
Now probably apply 12 layers of Korean creams. [Laughs.] I went to the pharmacy on a day off in Seoul with a dermatologist trainee who translated everything that was heavenly. Really, I turn off all electronics and have a kind of communication about gratitude — to be thankful for the day, to say how lucky we are, and to put the whole picture back in order.