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‘Give Me Some Power Chords, Really Loud!’ Things Got a Little Rowdy at Last Night’s Kitchen Gala

Charles Atlas and Dara Birnbaum at the Kitchen benefit.PHOTO BY STEPHANIE BERGERStephanie Berger

Charles Atlas and Dara Birnbaum at the Kitchen benefit.

PHOTO BY STEPHANIE BERGERStephanie Berger

“There’s a little bit of Palladium frisson going on here,” Tim Griffin, the executive director of the Kitchen, said at last night’s gala benefiting that institution. And indeed there was—East Village veterans and Lower East Side emerging artists mingled throughout the evening. The event was honoring artists Charles Atlas and Dara Birnbaum and took place at Cipriani’s palatial Wall Street club.

When guests sat down for dinner, they noticed something unexpected next to their name cards: earplugs. “You’re gonna need them,” Lumi Tan, a curator at the Kitchen, warned. They were there, as it turned out, for Glenn Branca’s performance. Branca is an avant-garde composer who’s best known for making ear-splittingly loud guitar music—he’s not the kind of person you expect to be performing at a benefit.

“Fuck silence,” Robert Longo said in his intro to Branca’s performance. “Give me some power chords, really loud!” Branca then brought out an enormous guitar and played some fairly high-decibel chords. Everyone at my table agreed that the earplugs probably weren’t necessary, despite the fact that, before the gala, at the sound check, Branca had broken some glasses with his discordant sounds.

“Well, someone offered me earplugs, but I said no thank you,” Birnbaum said after Elizabeth Sackler read an extended biography of her to the audience. An interesting factoid I learned from Sackler’s speech: Birnbaum received her first review in these very pages. It was a positive one, but her name was spelled “Dana Birnbaum.” Oops.

As guests ate their dinner, and as the pop band Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek performed, guests got drunker and rowdier. Whispers spread across the room that a man had crashed Paula Cooper’s table and was causing trouble. Meanwhile, someone stole Max Levai’s seat at Rachel Uffner’s table and ended up getting kicked out.

That free-wheeling attitude carried throughout the evening. Yvonne Rainer was supposed to give a speech to honor Charles Atlas, but Douglas Crimp showed up instead. He read an email from Rainer: “Oh shit, Douglas, I had an emergency tooth extraction today. I’m all fucked up.”

Dessert was served alongside the evening’s most fun performance: the Stanley Love Group’s song-and-dance routine. After Love and a troupe of dancers clanged spoons, play-fought, and began dancing in the center of the room, one smashed guest yelled out, “What’s going on?” Love and his performers started shimmying to Beyoncé and Peaches & Herb’s “Shake Your Groove Thing.”

Ryan McNamara got up and started dancing at his table when the Jackson Five came on. Wearing a plaid button-down with the sleeves torn off and denim shorts, he waved his hand in the air and sang along with the music.

After the performance, I caught up with Griffin. What did he think of the Stanley Love performance? “At the end of a long year, I needed that.”

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