Laurie Anderson is one of America’s most renowned and daring creative pioneers. Best known for her multimedia presentations, innovative use of technology, and first-person style, she is a writer, director, visual artist, and vocalist who has created groundbreaking works that span the worlds of art, theater, and experimental music.
Charles Atlas has been a pioneering figure in film and video for over four decades, forging new territory in a far-reaching range of genres, stylistic approaches, and techniques. Atlas has fostered collaborative relationships throughout his production, working intimately with such artists and performers as Antony and the Johnsons, Leigh Bowery, Michael Clark, Douglas Dunn, Marina Abramović, Yvonne Rainer, Mika Tajima/New Humans, and most notably Merce Cunningham, for whom he served as in-house videographer from the early 1970s through 1983. Photo: Lori E. Seid
Christopher Bollen is the editor-at-large of Interview magazine. His third novel, The Destroyers, was published by Harper Publishing in June 2017.
Tim Griffin is the executive director and chief curator at The Kitchen, where he has organized exhibitions and performances by artists such as Chantal Akerman, anohni, Charles Atlas, Gretchen Bender, Laurel Halo, Joan Jonas, Ralph Lemon, Aki Sasamoto, Wadada Leo Smith, Danh Vō, and many others. From 2003 to 2010 he served as editor-in-chief of Artforum.
Wade Guyton was born in 1972 in Hammond, Indiana, and lives in New York. His work has appeared in solo exhibitions at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2019), Serpentine Gallery, London (2017), Museo Madre/Fondazione Donnaregina per le arti contemporanee, Naples (2017), Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2017), Musée d’art moderne et contemporain (mamco), Geneva (2016), Le Consortium, Dijon (2016), Kunsthalle Zürich (2013), and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2012).
Jacqueline Humphries lives and works in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include Dia Art Foundation, The Dan Flavin Art Institute, Bridgehampton, New York (2019), Greene Naftali, New York (2017, 2015, 2012), Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2015), Contemporary Art Center New Orleans (2015), Modern Art, London (2014), and Prospect.1, New Orleans (2008).
Joan Jonas is a world-renowned artist whose work encompasses a wide range of media including video, performance, installation, sound, text, and sculpture. In 2018 Jonas was the recipient of the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy. Photo: Lila Gavagan
Ralph Lemon is an artist, writer, and choreographer.
A symbiotic organism in its own right, Anicka Yi’s work fuses multi-sensory experience with synthetic and evolutionary biology to form lush biofictional landscapes. Yi’s projects include collaborations with engineers, robots, synthetic and microbiologists, computer scientists, perfumers, ant and bacterial colonies, algae, tempura-fried flowers, and snails. Photo: David Heald
The Kitchen has had more influence than we can grasp or measure.
For fifty years this mercurial institution has variously acted as a TV studio, theater, gallery, lecture hall, concert venue, club, poetry stage, conference room, activist meeting place, dance theater, media lab, choreography studio, and so much more. Despite being so influential, it interestingly remains relatively unknown in the established art world and strangely unknowable among those who know it best. In a way, its power even comes from how it is unknowable. Unspoiled, unpopularized, mysterious, weird—but if you know, you know.
Rather than chasing the phantasmagoric mass audiences that many younger institutions look for, The Kitchen serves and embraces many micro-audiences. It is nimble and gets there before anyone else, and also probably goes where no one else would. Larger institutions have ripped off The Kitchen’s recipes of art, dance, music, and performance all served up together. All those departments of performance or time-based work in museums now—we wonder where they got that idea?
It’s now the fiftieth anniversary of this place, this idea, this process, this community, this laboratory, this kitchen. But The Kitchen, to survive, is having to look again at its home on Chelsea’s West 19th Street: the building works, but needs repairs to help artists make the projects they need to make. We all know what Chelsea looks like now: The Kitchen is surrounded on all sides by the sprawling symptoms of bloated global capitalism, now perhaps doomed to become empty ruins in a post-covid New York. Nevertheless, the 1920s brick icehouse that later became, first, the studio of the theater artist Robert Whitman and then, for the past thirty-four years, the home of The Kitchen, needs repairs. We thought about moving away from the real-estate obscenities of Chelsea, but decided to stay put and be a thorn in development’s side.
To do so we need a new elevator, new stairs, structural support, some bathrooms, some new office space, and, above all, improved workspaces for artists (who currently have to walk through our lobby to enter the theater). We also need to meet all the city’s building codes. In New York this costs a lot of money, more than it should, more than anyone wants to pay. But every artist in New York understands the deal with the devil one makes with the place.
The Kitchen needs to survive. We know it’s not an easy campaign to improve our spaces, but where other building campaigns promise architect-driven spectacles or expansionary dreams to bring in the masses and attract likes, we won’t do that. Every artist we spoke to said one thing: “Don’t fuck it up.” And we will listen to them.
Before covid changed everything, we decided as board members, with Director Tim Griffin, to do an exhibition in the building and invite Kitchen veterans and artists who care about this institution to exhibit and sell works, in partnership with their galleries, to raise needed funds. Now we are all wondering what an exhibition is anymore. How do we install an exhibition for no audience? We’re figuring that out. We hope we succeed.
Meanwhile, generous and brilliant artists including Cory Arcangel, Tauba Auerbach, Robert Bordo, Carol Bove, Cecily Brown, Peter Halley, Mary Heilmann, Alex Israel, Michael Krebber, Barbara Kruger, Simone Leigh, Zoe Leonard, Robert Longo, Senga Nengudi, Laura Owens, Mai-Thu Perret, Matthew Ritchie, Ed Ruscha, Taryn Simon, Haim Steinbach, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rosemarie Trockel, Danh Vō, Charline von Heyl, Mary Weatherford, T. J. Wilcox, and Christopher Williams have all donated works along with the both of us. With the help of the Gagosian Quarterly, we hope news of these gifts will reach past and future Kitchen supporters who will help the artists and their galleries place works in good homes and raise the money we need to keep The Kitchen here for the next generations.
We’ve invited author Christopher Bollen to interview a group of Kitchen veterans to share their thoughts about The Kitchen. Those represented here are only some of the people who have made the place the legend it is—here are some others to think about too: Muhal Richard Abrams, Vito Acconci, Kathy Acker, Chantal Akerman, Maryanne Amacher, anohni, Penny Arcade, Robert Ashley, John Baldessari, Judith Barry, Kevin Beasley, the Beastie Boys, Jérôme Bel, Gretchen Bender, Lynda Benglis, Dara Birnbaum, Eric Bogosian, Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, Glenn Branca, Troy Brauntuch, Anthony Braxton, Trisha Brown, John Cage, John Cale, Rhys Chatham, Lucinda Childs, Bruce Conner, Tony Conrad, Dennis Cooper, Merce Cunningham, Julius Eastman, Brian Eno, Fab Five Freddy, Karen Finley, Simone Forti, Diamanda Galas, Philip Glass, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Jack Goldstein, Dan Graham, Group Material, David Hammons, Keith Haring, Debbie Harry, Gary Hill, Yuka C. Honda, Gary Indiana, Vijay Iyer, Darius James, Jazzy Jeff, Bill T. Jones, Mike Kelley, John Kelly, Jeff Koons, Chris Kraus, George Kuchar, Mike Kuchar, Elad Lassry, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Sherrie Levine, George Lewis, Arto Lindsay, Mary Lucier, Lydia Lunch, Robert Mapplethorpe, Christian Marclay, Kerry James Marshall, Richard Maxwell, Rodney McMillian, Sarah Michelson, John Miller, Charlotte Moorman, Jason Moran, Butch Morris, Tracie Morris, Fred Moten, Nico Muhly, Matt Mullican, Laura Mulvey, Senga Nengudi, Okwui Okpokwasili, Luigi Ontani, Tony Oursler, Virginia Overton, Nam June Paik, Charlemagne Palestine, Zeena Parkins, Steve Paxton, Sondra Perry, Adrian Piper, Stephen Prina, Éliane Radigue, the Raincoats, Yvonne Rainer, Claudia Rankine, Ishmael Reed, Steve Reich, Vernon Reid, Rock Steady Crew, Martha Rosler, Arthur Russell, Carl Hancock Rux, David Salle, Carolee Schneemann, Allan Sekula, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Mike Smith, Wadada Leo Smith, Michael Snow, Sonic Youth, Keith Sonnier, Laurie Spiegel, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Morton Subotnick, the Swans, Talking Heads, Greg Tate, Amy Taubin, Cecil Taylor, Lynne Tillman, Yasunao Tone, Urban Bush Women, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Whitman, Hal Willner, David Wojnarowicz, the Wooster Group, Steina and Woody Vasulka, and La Monte Young.
—Wade Guyton and Jacqueline Humphries
Steina Vasulka once told me that The Kitchen took shape early on by becoming a “home for the homeless” in art, providing an early place for video, music, and before long any artistic approach that didn’t yet have an infrastructure to house it. Communities of people gave rise to the culture, reorienting its spaces and structures time and again. For the fiftieth anniversary, The Kitchen aims to honor that legacy by ensuring our space remains there for the next generation of artists and artwork, putting the organization in a position to adapt nimbly—and to strengthen culture—in a landscape changing vastly from that of The Kitchen’s beginnings in the 1970s. The Kitchen’s fiftieth-anniversary benefit exhibition represents a key first step in making certain The Kitchen remains in Chelsea as a key platform for the artistic community of New York City.
—Tim Griffin, executive director and chief curator
Why did I work so much with The Kitchen over the years? It was the only place in town. From early on, it was a place where you could really do things. There were folk and jazz clubs, but that wasn’t my scene. The Kitchen was tied more to the art galleries and in the ’70s I was hanging out more with visual artists than with musicians. I was making paintings and sculpture—visual work. It was after I incorporated music and sound in the gallery and started doing concerts that I drifted over to The Kitchen. And as I recall, The Kitchen started out focusing primarily on electronics and video art, but later on in the ’70s it started to broaden its scope. You have to remember, the art scene in New York was tiny. No one ever thought they’d make a living doing art, and you’d just walk everywhere. Basically, art scenes are all about real estate—the kind of spaces artists can get to live and work in. At that time there was a lot of really great cheap loft space in SoHo. I’d gotten in the habit of just walking over to The Kitchen to see what was going on. I’d end up seeing the same fifty people at every single event. It was nice that way, it was a really local scene. And really nothing was more local than The Kitchen. The art scene wasn’t international back then. Maybe the most international it got was Brian Eno, but that was because he was living in New York at the time.
The first big memory I have of working in The Kitchen was for the New Music, New York festival in 1979. That was really era defining in terms of what was the future, and it suddenly put The Kitchen on the map in a way that it hadn’t been before, particularly in terms of music. I was in a band then with Arthur Russell. Peter Gordon was in it for a while. Everything was a band in those days—you were a band if you played together once, so we were a band. But I think New Music, New York was what brought punk to The Kitchen. Previously it had been a little more hippy-ish, with everyone wearing white. For New Music, New York, everyone wore black, and a different scene emerged that was more connected to the club scene.
The most recent project I did at The Kitchen was She Who Saw Beautiful Things in 2019, with anohni. I had a small role in that, and the spirit of the show reminded me of the old days. It was fun watching how involved The Kitchen’s production staff was. For some of my shows early on, I just brought in what I had to work with. But it’s always been an interesting mix of music, theater, performance, and visual art, which is unique. The Kitchen really sort of invented that combination. Not everything ran perfectly. Nam June Paik organized a live television show called Good Morning Mr. Orwell . It was a mess—but it was an interesting mess. And then there were early versions of works like United States  that I got to put on there.
In the ’80s, I began to tour more in other places so I wasn’t in New York as much. But I did get to be on The Kitchen’s board. We didn’t have a say in the curatorial program, we were simply about keeping the space afloat—although we did care very much about who the director was and finding the best person to fill that post, because we always wanted to keep true to what The Kitchen was about. We weren’t necessarily trying to stage big commercial successes; what I appreciated about The Kitchen was the flops as much as the successes, and giving people the right to flop in order to experiment. You were allowed to come in with an idea and to try to execute it. It didn’t have to be polished. It was always an experimental situation. Even now, in a world that’s much more professionally oriented and where artists often seem to be preparing for big professional careers, The Kitchen still lets you play around. Back when we got started, none of us were thinking professionally, not for one second, not in our wildest dreams!
I became more deeply engaged as a board member again when Tim Griffin came on. Obviously it’s a wild and turbulent moment ahead. Who knows when we’ll be able to go into theaters again—probably not for a long time. I think The Kitchen is well set up for the plague, though, because of its roots in electronics and recordings. In a way, it’s the perfect covid venue because, as people try to figure out how to make something—anything—in this era, we’re going to realize that it’s going to be about not how many people you can pack into one place but how you need to stay small. And it will be about recording the work. That’s where The Kitchen has a unique role to play in this new world. We have to go back to the electronic origins and say, “Okay, remember when The Kitchen was on TV?” Because that’s how it started, and it has this long relationship to recording live performance. So this is a moment for The Kitchen to shine.
In the early 1970s, as part of the Merce Cunningham Company, we were aware of what was going on in New York in terms of progressive art. The Kitchen was very much at the center of that. It was known as the place where people showed interesting work that wasn’t mainstream. The first time I visited The Kitchen it had already moved to Wooster Street. I was one of the artists invited to participate in a performance show called Soup and Tart . I remember my partner Kate Parker and I did a dance based on the Castle Walk, as danced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle . It was a comedy performance, really, where I was wearing white tie and tails, all held together with Velcro so off it came during our dance, right down to my underwear. I’d never performed before and I was so nervous. I had such stage fright. We rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed, and of course when we got up there I completely forgot what I was supposed to do. It was organized by John Dupuy, who was a mentor of mine when I was very young. As I recall, each artist was given two minutes max. The audience sat on the floor around the central performance area.
After that, I continued to show at The Kitchen regularly. I also did lighting and costumes for other artists who performed there. For Karole Armitage’s performance Do We Could , I put ivy on the back wall and strung it with small flashing lights. The dancers wore colored makeup on their palms so that when they touched the walls and columns, it left a mark. That was sort of the punk period. And then in 1980 I did my first retrospective at The Kitchen. I was around thirty at the time, and had done these works with Merce Cunningham, and a lot of Super 8 pieces as well. The Kitchen was the logical choice to show that work, because it was really the main place in the city where you could go and see avant-garde and experimental video. And that was so important. It welcomed dance, music, and video, and that meant a lot of my friends worked and showed there too.
I ended up staging some of my most important pieces at The Kitchen. In 1982, I did a screening there of More Men, which was a two-channel synced video before syncing video was really possible. Basically, I had two three-quarter-inch players that were approximately the same speed. I knew one was a little faster, so I had to keep pausing and unpausing it to keep it in sync during the screenings. We had pairs of television monitors spread around the space, with chairs around them so people could watch. I also showed Hail the New Puritan there in 1986 and S&D in 1988. The Kitchen has really been the site of my most experimental work, often in first versions where I didn’t entirely know what the piece was yet. That was what was so great, they allowed artists to experiment and develop. I guess you could say they were highfliers. Part of S&D was designed to be adapted into a television show but it got banned from PBS. Apparently that was because it was ambiguous, people would be upset and not know why—and I said, “That’s the whole point.” It had drag queens in it, and blood and killings. It was about aids, basically. It’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever done and it’s very personal for me.
The funny thing is, I’m still trying new things at The Kitchen. In 2019 I was part of anohni’s two-act performance She Who Saw Beautiful Things. I’ve never learned lines before and gone up on stage and recited them—never—so it really was my stage debut. Dancing or performing on the side of the stage, sure, but never speaking lines in front of an audience. It was a lot of fun. anohni made this outrageous poem for me to recite while doing a dance. I was very proud of myself because I was so nervous and had no idea if I could do it.
Every time I’ve been involved with a project at The Kitchen it’s because they’ve sent me an invitation. The invitation is usually, “What do you want to do?” And what I want to do at The Kitchen is something that’s risky, something I’ve never done before, something where I’m not repeating myself. The Kitchen is really the only place in New York that’s ever invited me to do something like that. It’s been my home base.
The Kitchen’s founders, Steina and Woody [Vasulka], were an important part of the video community; they made very special experimental video pieces and developed a lot of their own systems, which included a space to present new works. By the time I started showing at The Kitchen, it had moved from its original location on Mercer down to the corner of Wooster and Broome. It was a nice big space, and it became a very important place for exhibitions. The Kitchen was really one of the central spaces where you went to see new work, and as an artist, you could do whatever you wanted there. You were really given the space. Usually you brought your own props in with you and so on, it was very collaborative. Nobody had much money but you were given a lot of freedom.
The first piece I staged there was Videotapes and Performance in 1974. It was based on a magic show. I made a set with paper walls and behind them I hung a big six-foot hoop, which was revealed at the end when I removed the layers of paper, like curtains. Then at the end of the piece I played reggae music, which I was working with at the time, as the hoop spun. It was an important piece for me and one of my favorites.
Back in those early days of performing, you really had to build your own audience. The Kitchen advertised a little, but mostly we made our own posters and put them up ourselves, and one collected one’s own audience as one went to dances and performances and shows. It was primarily a downtown audience of friends—artists, musicians, performers, video artists, dancers—a mixed audience that represented the downtown art world at the time. The Kitchen performances were very well attended, because it was the key place where you could actually see that kind of new work.
As new directors and curators of The Kitchen came, its aesthetic changed, and, of course, as artists our own work changed over time. When Eric Bogosian became the dance curator, I showed a piece called The Juniper Tree , which was a little more theatrical, as Eric’s leanings were more theatrical. But even with each different director, you always had complete freedom. You’d spend a week setting up the installation and then you’d do your performance. I remember some terrific pieces by other artists. Luigi Ontani did a beautiful installation where he filled the space with these prismatic lights floating around [Astronaut, A Tableau Vivant, 1979].
There was a real sense of community with the other artists who showed there. Later on I did Lines in the Sand  and They Come to Us without a Word II , both of which included collaborations with other artists. For me, the collaboration was often in terms of music. For Lines in the Sand I worked on the soundtrack with Paul Miller and Steve Vitiello. For They Come to Us without a Word, Jason Moran composed the music and played the piano. Plus, there were children who performed in that piece. It was a revision of the piece that I showed at the Venice Biennale [in 2015]. When it came to choosing where to present it in New York, The Kitchen made sense because of my long connection to it. I asked Tim Griffin and once again I found a home there.
The evolution of The Kitchen from its early days to the present really mirrors how the art world itself has changed over time. I remember seeing the Talking Heads perform there in the Broome Street space , standing right in the front. It was a tiny crowd. The Kitchen got bigger when it moved to Chelsea, and with a bigger space came a greater variety of work and bigger productions. That’s true with much of the art world, so the history of The Kitchen reflects that development. But throughout, it has remained one of the most important and vital venues for experimental work. Sometimes I think there has to be a limit to how many times an artist can work in one space, because you want other artists to have the opportunity—especially young artists. But I always keep in touch with The Kitchen. And who knows, maybe in the future I’ll be back again.
I first performed at The Kitchen in the 1980s. I was a young artist, and that meant performing wherever you could. The Kitchen was one of the great spaces that gave you the freedom to do just that. I did a collaboration with the fantastic Vernon Reid, who was a good friend of mine, as part of a series called Music/Dance in December 1983. He played some blues guitar while I did a choreographed piece about the military, dancing with my wife at the time, Mary Good.
The great thing about The Kitchen was that it was available. It was an available space, and for a young choreographer that space in SoHo was sacred. Everyone was performing there, and it offered such an extraordinary range of work. There was a real sense of freedom compared to the tyrannical hierarchy that certain spaces so often become in terms of who’s allowed to be there and who isn’t. So that was really encouraging and generative to me as a young artist. Being a space for multidisciplinary action is part of The Kitchen’s DNA, and the fact that it’s been able to sustain that is a miracle. The Kitchen has always maintained this incredible equipoise where you’re going to see video, you’re going to see music, you’re going to see dance. I remember going to see Glenn Branca and one of his crazy symphonies going on at The Kitchen. So they’d have this operatic stuff one night and then I’d be going in to do these dances with my friends the next.
Early on, in the SoHo space, we’d bring in the materials we needed. Now I’m a little older and maybe more sophisticated—and The Kitchen is too—so I go into a project at The Kitchen knowing exactly what’s available to me. But it’s been the same mission with the different directors there, with Debra [Singer] and with Tim [Griffin]—they let me go and do what I want. That’s why, as an artist, it’s my favorite space. Especially, with Tim, I’m going to ask to use the whole building and see what happens. And they let me.
In 2015 I showed Scaffold Room, where I built my own little theater inside The Kitchen, and then I asked for the second floor, where I wanted to show some visual works and have the space be all black instead of white. I was playing with, What is theater? And, What’s a white cube?—turning that conversation in on itself. So basically I’m going in there and playing with all the possibilities of having a container, and I’m asking Tim to give the whole space to me in order to do that. Really it’s a conversation of, “Tim, I want to do this,” and him saying, “Yes, it’s yours.” And, of course, I realize that in terms of economic politics it’s a different time to say yes to that than it was back in the early days of The Kitchen, when there was less at stake. So saying yes to an artist coming in and taking over the whole building is really incredible. But I feel that The Kitchen speaks to a whole community of art-makers. I can’t think of another space where you can do that.
Now, in our current pandemic, that whole way of making art feels very endangered—especially for dance artists. I hope that energy will still be there. Those of us who have survived have done so partly because of the available space that has been there for us to interact with. Now those available spaces are in question. The Kitchen has always run on pure spirit, thank God. The last project I did before the shutdown was at The Kitchen, a piece called Rant #3, performed on the night of February 29, 2020. It was a free show in one of my dream spaces. I was working on Rant #3 as part of a larger constellation of work. This was a collaboration with Kevin Beasley, Okwui Okpokwasili, Samita Sinha, Paul Hamilton, Stanley Gambucci, Mariama Noguera-Devers, Dwayne Brown, and Darrell Jones. It was a work dealing with a kind of ranting about freedom, particularly freedom of the body, and there were certainly racial politics involved in that because it was all black bodies inhabiting the space. It’s a haunted piece. I thought at the time that it was the momentum for asking the next question—I’d been playing with questions of space and audience and sharing live work. Now it all feels in danger. A friend told me that she thinks, when it all comes back and we’ll be allowed to have live performance again, we’re all going to be so hungry for it. That feels encouraging. But we’d better hope that spaces like The Kitchen stay supported and open for the work that’s next. We’re certainly going to have a different idea of freedoms when we come out of this.
I’ve always regarded The Kitchen as a hallmark of avant-garde performance—to me, it was the essence of 1970s and ’80s New York. But The Kitchen is really a zigzag of temporalities. You can’t help but feel it’s this temple of the past while at the same time it’s ushering in the future. I came to New York in 1996, and my first exposure to The Kitchen was through two good friends, Steven Parrino and Arto Lindsay, who told me about their own performances at The Kitchen back in the 1980s. Someone like Parrino is more known as a visual artist but he had also had a music career and his work is very much steeped in the practice of music-making. I think what appealed to me right away about The Kitchen was, to borrow a 1990s phrase, its DIY approach. It immediately seemed accessible and welcoming, and it didn’t have the stuffy airs and graces of a lot of museums and institutions. It felt more like it was speaking directly to the people, with less of that hierarchal, gatekeeper mentality. That makes it unique in the art ecosystem.
One of the great things about The Kitchen for an artist is that there’s no permanent collection, no exquisite art objects that might get contaminated by an experimental project. It really is art and performance downstairs and art and installation upstairs, and they’ve remained dedicated to that model. It’s impossible to ignore The Kitchen’s history when you’re working in the space. It’s like being invited to be part of a conversation that has spanned decades. I suppose “camaraderie” is the word that comes to mind—I don’t mean that in an overly romantic sense, I mean it as someone who has experienced the opposite in a lot of uptight institutions. The Kitchen is not that. And it’s New York City. You want to do something special for your hometown.
In 2015, then Assistant Curator [now Curator] Lumi Tan approached me about doing an exhibition at The Kitchen. It happened to coincide with a residency I had at MIT, and it became a perfect cocktail of the microbial research I was doing there. What I wanted to do wasn’t easy or tame: I was bringing bacteria into The Kitchen, and that met with a lot of strong opinions and concerns. But I felt very supported. There was a really progressive sense at The Kitchen of what an artist might be able to accomplish. It certainly took a collective effort. On a very practical level, there’s a lot less bureaucracy at The Kitchen than there is at other institutions. Institutions tend to talk a big game, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts, there seems to be a manual that says no, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. Probably a lot of regulations would forbid what I bring to the table. The Kitchen, though, was very open and really allowed me to develop my ideas and push the boundaries.
For that show, I remember, the timing was perfect in terms of my subject because of the Ebola virus. We had a nurse in quarantine in New Jersey and a male doctor who had gone bowling in Brooklyn right when he got back from Africa. Everyone in the city was really panicked and worried, you could feel this palpable tension everywhere. And that was really the inspiration for the exhibition: contagion and outbreaks and viruses. Of course that was just a drop in the bucket compared to what’s happening now, but I remember that it was the first time I’d ever really been conscious of a virus stateside, and we as a collective society were responding to it in very obvious ways—we were terrified of germs and bacteria and cross-contamination. That was what I was working with at The Kitchen, these microbial entanglements. It was a very challenging and demanding show, to stand up to people’s fears and phobias about the biological. And it’s a very rare space that would allow me to do that.
Artists can try as much as possible to push the envelope or move the needle forward, but if the institution and everyone involved in it—the curator, the director, the board, everybody—isn’t supportive, then artists can only do so much. People look to artists to ask where the art world is going, but we have to take into consideration the rest of the art world too, the people in positions of power who are designing the programs and directing the institutions and their funding. It can’t just be artists clamoring to envision a brighter, more progressive world. We have to work together on this. My hope is that artists will continue to be visionary, but also that everyone else in the ecosystem will be visionary too, and willing to take leaps of faith.
The Kitchen’s exhibition Ice and Fire: A Benefit Exhibition in Three Parts will be open through March 13, 2021. Curated by Wade Guyton, Jacqueline Humphries, and The Kitchen, Ice and Fire features artworks by artists from throughout the organization’s community in New York and beyond. Funds raised through this benefit will go toward a planned renovation of The Kitchen’s building on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, ensuring that the organization will remain a platform for artists in the historic and beloved space it has called home since 1986. Ice and Fire takes speculative shape as an exhibition that is accessible through a dynamic online viewing room rather than through physical visits; the installation images on this web page make normally unseen spaces of the institution viewable to the public and record the building in its current state, before renovation begins. To view the exhibition, visit 512w19.thekitchen.org.
Special thanks: Alison Burstein