Legendary New York arts center The Kitchen announces an expansive renovation

Kitchen Renovation

Legendary New York arts center The Kitchen announces an expansive renovation

The Kitchen on West 19th in Chelsea, pictured in 2017 (Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, celebrated New York City performance venue and alternative art space The Kitchen announced yesterday the launch of a $28 million, five-year capital campaign to fund the renovation of the 1920s-era former icehouse in Chelsea it has long called home. The campaign appears to be off to a stellar start as $19 million has already been pledged. Major supporters include the City of New York, which has pledged $7.25 million, with an anticipated additional commitment of $2.5 million from the City Council. The Kitchen’s board and other foundations including The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation have also pledged lead gifts.

The Kitchen has called the three-story building at 512 West 19th Street home since the beginning of its spring 1986 season (it purchased the building the following year) after relocating from a loft space in SoHo and, before that, a kitchen within the old Mercer Arts Center in Greenwich Village. There, the fledgling organization, co-founded by video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka, operated for its first two years. Located just a block from the Hudson River and Chelsea Piers in a previously gritty swath of Manhattan that’s now home to a bustling, high-end gallery district, The Kitchen’s current home suffered substantial damage from floodwaters during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The Kitchen has tapped New York-based studio Rice+Lipka Architects to lead the much-needed revamp, which, among other improvements is set to include a refreshed lobby with enhanced accessibility, a new second-floor studio for artist residencies and educational programming, a spacious third-floor gallery dedicated to “hybridized projects,” and an enclosed rooftop terrace for mingling before and after performances.  As detailed in a press release, other enhancements are set to include an enlarged dressing room for artists, reconfigured administrative spaces, and upgraded and enhanced infrastructural elements throughout the facility including bolstered sound-proofing, modern HVAC and security systems, a new elevator, and more.

section view of planned renovations for art space at the kitchen
(Courtesy The Kitchen)

As The Kitchen elaborated in its announcement, while “local, national, and international artists all treasure” the venue’s “unique industrial setting,” the aging building “presents numerous architectural challenges for both artists and audiences.”

“At the same time,” the nonprofit added, “the surrounding neighborhood of Chelsea continues to change radically, putting The Kitchen’s continued residency there at risk. Central to this renovation is a re-imagined, renovated building that will realize greater technical and financial support for artists and, as important, greater accessibility for audiences. While retaining its current scale and rugged patina, The Kitchen will enhance its usability—maintaining its ethos and spirit, as well as its powerful intimacy.”

It’s worth noting that the building wasn’t converted straight from a cavernous icehouse to a multifaceted arts venue in the mid-1980s—other uses over the decades have included a film sound stage and a working artists studio.

Legacy Russell, The Kitchen’s newly instated executive director and chief curator, said in a statement:

“The Kitchen, which has been both artist-driven and forward-looking from the start, is well equipped to navigate the myriad questions our field is confronting about the future of art and the role institutions should have in shaping it. Looking inward, too, during The Kitchen’s 50th anniversary, we are asking ourselves not only, ‘Who has been part of the organization’s history, and how can we celebrate this presence and contribution?,’ but also, ‘Who has not been part of the history that brings us to this point—or the history we are building—and what are the ways in which this next chapter can make room for their stories to be told?’ The renovation of our building helps us support a broader spectrum of avant-garde artists, in new ways, as they lead the way.”

In both its current and previous locations, The Kitchen has served as the de facto epicenter of the experimental art scene in New York City. Early landmark performances and exhibitions include the first-ever Talking Heads concert in 1975; the inaugural performance of Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson in 1976; Pictures, Robert Mapplethorpe’s first public photography exhibition in 1977; the first presentation of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills in 1980, and the list goes on and on. More contemporarily, artists associated with the space include Antony and the Johnsons, Chantal Akerman, Gretchen Bender, Simone Leigh, Sondra Perry, and others. The roster of other artists, particularly musicians, who have presented works at The Kitchen over the past five decades reads like a who’s who of downtown cool: Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, the Beastie Boys, Bill T. Jones, Debbie Harry, John Cale, Sonic Youth, Arthur Lindsay, Arto Lindsay, Fab Five Freddy, Karen Finely, Jeff Koons, Kiki Smith, and more.

“The gritty heft of The Kitchen’s building underpins the experience of working in and visiting it,” said Lyn Rice, co-director of Rice+Lipka Architects. “Maintaining and further exposing this character is central to the renovation, which will create a sustainable foundation for the future, maximizing space, doubling capacity, and allowing artists to better leverage the former icehouse in cross-disciplinary experimentation.”

Renovation work is slated to kick off next spring.