The 2021-2022 issue of the Annual Guide to Art in America, published in December 2021, includes interviews with recently appointed directors of artistic institutions. A beloved nonprofit space known for showcasing stimulating interdisciplinary art, particularly in video and performance, the kitchen has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. In the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation, new Executive Director and Chief Curator Legacy Russell, formerly Associate Curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, talks about the institution’s audience, its role in the art world and his plans for his future.
The Kitchen is undergoing a transformation. What has made this place so spectacular is the interdisciplinary approach employed by curators and cultural practitioners who have been part of its history. The LAB series brings together artists from different fields; the Dance and Process project helps to re-imagine and re-articulate dance; and archives, educational programs and institutional partnerships continue to grow. The new building will allow a more dynamic and rhizomatic exhibition program as well as an enhanced educational component. We will explore art and technology, and how new media and moving image work can be brought to the fore.
Coming to this non-collecting institution as someone deeply rooted in museum work, I am aware of the lessons that museums have taught us – the models they provide to support artists across generations, but also the limitations of institutional space. The idea of a cannon has long been associated with museums. But conservation institutions and practices need to be corrected. “Glitching” means thinking critically and conspiratorially about where we can step in to challenge systems of participation and power in the art world, which echo larger systems outside of it. this. We need to reconsider accessibility and readership, especially as an institution with historically significant archives. So we ask ourselves what transparency should look like for our institution, and how we can engage with other institutions to achieve these goals.
Together, the incredible staff here are working to redefine the term “emerging artists” to include not only artists at the beginning of their careers, but also those who are at the start of certain types of creative risk. Having an artist-centered vision allows us to reflect on the type of care that will allow artists to grow and flourish within our institution. The avant-garde concept has its limits: it’s an expansive and incredible proposition, but too often it has deprioritized and made people of color and queer people invisible. The Kitchen’s responsibility is to center these narratives, to uplift artists who continue to explore their work in radical ways, within our institution and beyond.
In this next chapter, Cooking will not be reserved for the art world alone. Our space is on 19th Street and the scenery has changed dramatically over time. When we first entered this building, the majority of the structures that now surround it did not exist. We need to reflect the diverse communities that persevere within Chelsea as well as the creative communities that have been moved across New York City, in large part because of the rapid acceleration of the gentrification process. These people should all feel included and welcome in our program.
My great hope is that the kitchen fosters art that is more responsive to these stories and offers a broader view of what art might look like in this next chapter of the world.