Talking with Lumi Tan from The Kitchen

Last week, we met with curator Lumi Tan of The Kitchen! The Kitchen is a multidisciplinary, non-profit art space, hosting both gallery spaces for fine art as well as theaters for performance art, concerts, etc. The Kitchen has a long history in the New York contemporary art scene, having now existed for five decades since it was founded in 1971 as an artist collective primarily for the new realms of video and performance arts. With such a long history, star artists now essential to the art history pantheon have had their careers launched at The Kitchen, such as Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe, as well as famous musicians having performed there early in their careers such as Philip Glass.

In the future if things go back to “normal” and The Kitchen is operating normally again, I’m thrilled at the prospect of visiting. I love that this is a space for art’s sake, without the interference of money or the art market due due its non-profit nature. As these are works, pieces, and performances are made without the intention of being sold, I’m sure there’s potential for unbridled creativity instead of giving into the whims of what’s wanted in the market currently. And as someone who isn’t familiar with theater and performance art, I’m really excited to dive into these worlds, especially in a space that’s also tied to the more familiar visual/fine arts.

The Kitchen

Not having met with a curator yet, I was a bit intimidated going into the meeting, but it was very casual and Tan was extremely friendly and down to earth! She delved into her career beginnings, having graduated with a BA in art history, then working for-profit gallery jobs/internships, such as one abroad in France. She then began an internship at MoMA PS1, then gaining a full-time curation position there. It was really interesting and actually heartening to hear that she had never finished her graduate studies degree but nonetheless obtained these curation positions at PS1 and The Kitchen. I feel as though most jobs today in academia, the art world, etc. require multiple degrees (often for low pay and are extremely competitive), but it’s good to see that some employers value experience, skills, etc. rather than only degrees, especially in such regarded institutions. She also talked a bit about what a regular day at her job might be like, separating her days into two groups with the first involving installing shows/doing tech for performances, and the other days involving visiting artist studios as well as doing more administrative work such as fundraising, outreach, and thinking of future projects. I really admire how much she has on her plate in terms of the jobs she does at The Kitchen, but it also seems like two entirely different worlds curating fine art shows versus performances. 

Talking with Art World Insider Kenny Schachter

Before going into our meeting with dealer, artist, writer, and curator Kenny Schachter, I was initially intimidated. Prior to Kenny’s lecture, what I’ve read from him and about him paints him to be someone who likes to push buttons and be provocative, himself publishing articles slamming other professionals in the art world. However, at the risk of sounding trite, you should not judge a book by its cover as Schachter comes across as an extremely empathetic and warm person despite whatever reputation he may have garnered. Initially entering the art world as an outsider, having been involved with finance and having no formal art education, Schachter entered the field for his genuine interest and love of art before the art world became so characterized by art investment and backwards politics. From what I have gathered, I don’t think Schachter is deliberately attempting to come across as derisive in his writings, but is using his art world insider status for good and to expose the corruption within. While he is an expert on the financial aspects of the art market, he seemed more interested in talking about art for art’s sake, beaming when discussing how art enriches his life and the emotional connections art and artists can make.

While I can’t say I’m necessarily surprised, one of Kenny’s most fascinating divulgements was how the art world is very conservative despite its progressive veneer. Most people probably associate the art world with being radical and tolerant, but his experiences do not quite live up to these expectations. Schachter said that when entering the field he had the notion that “everybody was drinking absinthe and getting wasted and cutting their years off”, yet “sitting on the floor of the stock exchange or working in the law firm was a more radical environment to work in”, then going on to say that the art world was the most conservative field he has worked in. He then described how exclusionary of an environment the art world can be, himself being pigeon holed by his appearance into the lower rungs of the art world hierarchy. I think Kenny here proves that there is a disconnect in the art world between what it’s touted as, in being a progressive place with importance placed on marginalized identity, yet this is not mirrored in reality as it’s still a male and money dominated field. 

As mentioned before, Schachter came across as very sincere, which was very refreshing especially in terms of his curation and how he chooses art to purchase. Instead of picking art purely based on what the market might favor at the moment, Schachter chooses pieces by instinct and what he connects with on an emotional level. Most touching was his connection with Eva Beresin, a Hungarian artist he discovered on Instagram whose self portraits often deal with trauma caused by her parents whom she lost in the Holocaust, and whose works Schachter now curates. Relatively undiscovered at the time, Schachter reached out to her curious about her life and works, and the two ended up becoming close friends, Kenny saying “I basically changed her life as much as she changed mine”.

Never stand naked in front of a mirror and when that happens I close my eyes tight
Oil on cardboard
39.5 x 27.5 in.

With this said, Schachter is not interested in just making money, but deeply cares about art and establishing real connections with artists and people in the field.