Typically, organizations stow their archives away, keeping them far from public viewing. But the Kitchen has taken a different approach at the Armory Show, where it’s turned its archive outward.
This year at the fair, the Armory’s organizers launched a new section devoted to art nonprofits, inviting the 51-year-old alternative arts space to inaugurate the new series dubbed Armory “Spotlight.” Founded as an artist collective in 1971, the Kitchen is one of the most esteemed organizations of the kind in New York. Its Chelsea home currently undergoing a multiyear renovation, it has temporarily relocated to a loft in Westbeth Artist Housing.
Its booth acts as an informal guide to some of the Kitchen’s greatest hits, with audio recordings and printed posters acting as stand-ins for performances, exhibitions, and events that the organization has staged over the decades.
Playing over three speakers are recordings of a selection of experimental music by John Driscoll, David Tudor, and others; they compete with the background noise of the fair for visitors’ attention. These recordings were previously released through albums between 2004 to 2015 in an archival preservation project. The endeavor made the audio clips available to the public after being long held in storage.
Making up some of the Kitchen’s archive of printed materials referenced on the booth’s wallpaper are programming calendars, posters, and flyers for individual events. It’s a nod back to a previous pre-digital era; the practice at the time was to wheat paste those materials around the city in various contexts.
“What we wanted to do was present the materials in a way that was really dynamic, but also as a callback to the history,” said the Kitchen’s curator Alison Burstein in an interview with ARTnews. To organize the booth, she worked with the Kitchen’s curatorial assistant Angelique Rosales Salgado and archivist Alex Waterman.
One poster visible on the booth’s wall references a 1988 performance put on by several artists in collaboration Charles Atlas, a pioneering video artist who is the subject of a current show at the Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works. Others reference seminal performances by Christian Marclay, Bill Viola, and Laurie Anderson.
Part of the task at Armory, Burstein noted, was “inviting visitors to start chasing these connections.”
From the very first days of the Kitchen’s programming, experimental music was at its core. Video artists who were filming dance performers who were collaborating with composers, furthering their goal of making work with technologies that were still not yet widely accessible.
“We’re really layering the history and sort of collapsing the distinction between a concert that took place in 1970 and a dance performance that took place in 2011,” said Burstein.
“There are these networks that you can trace between artists who were collaborating widely and freely across many different disciplines,” she continued. “From music to visual art to performance to these unnamable categories in between.”
The Kitchen has long been considering what it means to be an alternative space. Current executive director and chief curator Legacy Russell has continued in public forums to champion the Kitchen’s community roots, resisting the idea that every arts institution must grow to monumental scale.
That commitment to showcasing its history and making known the artists that once passed through its halls was felt in the Kitchen’s first showcase at Armory.
“It is a living material,” said Burstein of the organization’s archive. “It’s something that we are always thinking about how to dimensionalize.”