Glitching the Art Institution: Legacy Russell

The 2021–22 issue of Art in America’s Annual Guide, released in December 2021, includes interviews with recently appointed directors of art institutions. A beloved nonprofit space known for presenting challenging interdisciplinary art, particularly in video and performance, the Kitchen just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Amid a multimillion-dollar building renovation, new executive director and chief curator Legacy Russell—formerly associate curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem—speaks about the institution’s audience, its role within the art world, and her plans for its future.

The Kitchen is going through a major transformation. What has made this place so spectacular is the interdisciplinary approach employed by the curators and cultural practitioners who have been part of its history. The L.A.B. series brings artists from different fields into conversation; the Dance and Process project helps reimagine and rearticulate dance; and the archives, educational programs, and institutional partnerships continue to grow. The new building will allow for a more dynamic, rhizomatic exhibition schedule and an enhanced educational component. We’ll explore art and technology, and how new media and moving-image work can be brought to the fore.

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Coming into this noncollecting institution as someone deeply seated in museum work, I’m aware of the lessons that museums have taught us—the models they provide for supporting artists across generations, but also the limits of institutional space. The idea of a canon has long been associated with museums. But institutions and curatorial practices need to be glitched. “Glitching” means thinking critically, and conspiratorially, about where we can intervene to challenge the systems of participation and power in the art world, which echo larger systems outside it. We need to reconsider accessibility and readership, especially as an institution with a historically important archive. So we’re asking ourselves what transparency should look like for our institution, and how we can be in dialogue with other institutions to achieve these goals.

Together, the incredible staff members here are working to redefine the term “emerging artists” to include not only artists at the beginning of their careers, but also those at the beginning of certain types of creative risk. Having an artist-centered vision allows us to think about what type of care will allow artists to grow and thrive within our institution. The concept of the avant-garde has its limits: it is an expansive, incredible proposition, but it has too often deprioritized and rendered invisible queer people and people of color. The Kitchen’s responsibility is to center those narratives, to elevate artists who continue to explore their work in radical ways—within our institution and beyond it.

In this next chapter, the Kitchen will not be for the art world alone. Our space is on 19th Street, and the landscape has changed significantly 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 displaced across New York, largely because of the rapidly accelerating process of gentrification. Those people should all feel included and welcome in our program.

My great hope is that the Kitchen will foster art that is more responsive to these histories—and offer an expanded vision of what art could look like in this next chapter of the world.


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