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'The Kitchen': an arts experiment aimed at the world

By David Sterritt / July 29, 1981

New York

It's birthday time at the Kitchen -- the only place in town where you can see 2,000 hours of television, 45 concerts, 32 dance programs, 25 "performance pieces," and 12 exhibitions, all within the space of one season and three adjoining rooms.

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A decade old, and livelier than ever, the Kitchen recently celebrated its 10 th anniversary with a pair of mammoth shows called "Aluminum Nights." The list of performers reads like a Who's Who of new music -- from the Philip Glass Ensemble to the Steve Reich Musicians, the Raybeats to the Bush Tetras, the Love of Life Orchestra to Fab Five Freddie & Friends.

And music was just one aspect of the event, which also featured video, dance, and poetry. Even at that, the whole potpourri -- totaling about 16 hours -- only sampled the energy, diversity, and experimentation that have marked the Kitchen during its first 10 years.

"We're looking for intelligent experimentation," says Kitchen director Mary MacArthur, who speaks with an enthusiastic air and a tuneful British accent. Under her guidance, the organization is reaching out in more directions than ever, toward artists in a wide variety of fields, including some that don't have neat labels yet. Today, its activity is international in scope. Recent innovations include:

* Touring: Last year, a dozen young composers, choreographers, and performing artists toured five European cities under the aegis of the Kitchen. Requests for further programs were promptly received, and the Kitchen now plans several such tours each year.

* Distribution: The Kitchen keeps an archive of (so far) 320 videotapes and 200 concert recordings, which are widely circulated. Exhibitions focusing on this material have appeared in the United States and abroad.

* Television production: "Live From the Kitchen" is a series of programs by artists who use TV as their theater. This has included Robert Ashley's superb "Music Word Fire," which recently aired on public television in New York as part of a projected 3 1/2-hour work called "Perfect Lives." Less monumentally, video artist Joan Logue is assembling 30-second "commercials" by such radical artists as Spalding Gray, Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, and John Cage.

Then there's the usual monthly schedule of music, video, dance, and other works, presented at Kitchen headquarters, 484 Broome Street in the downtown SoHo neighborhood. Events take place in three rooms: a gallery for exhibitions, a small "viewing room" for video, and a large "performance space."

The Kitchen thrives on intermix. It suits the philosophy of Miss MacArthur and her colleagues to tuck so many different works into one place at one time, with only a wall or two separating them. On an afternoon not long ago, for instance, one passed a group of portraits by Joan Logue, and overheard a rehearsal by pianist Frederic Rzewski, on the way to see videotaped films by Stuart Sherman. A multitude of media, indeed.

On one level, this symbolizes much of today's new art, with its rampant collaboration among diverse disciplines. More concretely, the mix of media broadens audience tastes: Miss MacArthur is tickled with the idea of patrons arriving to see one event, and stumbling on two or three others they may never have heard of -- and may like even better.

Though the Kitchen is dedicated to discovery, the word "new" is not a fetish there. "We might like an idea that's not new at all," says Miss MacArthur, "but a new development.m Nobody likes to use the terms 'experimental' or 'avant-garde' anymore, because they seem critical. But experimentation is extremely important: It can be not only interesting, but . . . hilarious!"