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Julius Eastman at The Kitchen

By Tim Griffin

Jan 24, 2018

Historically speaking, the cultural importance of The Kitchen has revolved at least in part around its very obscurity. In other words, the platform exists precisely to propel work that resists easy definition, and the artists working here—throughout the organization’s nearly five-decade existence—have frequently embraced an all-too-uncommon opportunity to engage and escape at once the fixed parameters typically associated with any institutional or disciplinary framework. (As one artist has said of The Kitchen’s profile during the 1970s and 1980s, “It was great because no one could say what it was.”) Yet such a legacy and mission occasionally makes the task of presenting the work of artists particularly fraught—especially when it comes to those woven most deeply into the fabric of the organization’s history. How should we put forward work from the past, making complex (if not self-contradictory) practices legible to audiences new and old, without falling prey to the impulses of constructing over-determined histories, on the one hand, and impressionistic ones on the other?

By all accounts, composer Julius Eastman is a singularly representative figure in this regard. Appearing frequently at The Kitchen during the 1970s and ’80s—and presenting such pivotal compositions as Femenine (1975), Crazy Nigger (1979), and The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc (1981) in the space—Eastman was long invested in its multifarious culture, collaborating with the likes of Arthur Russell and Meredith Monk, yet he regularly challenged (or extended, if you prefer) the day’s ethos of formal innovation. If Eastman deployed the compositional techniques of minimalism, for example, it was only while invoking other musical genres and, moreover, an explicit politic that placed such art at an ever elusive interstice of gender, sexuality, and race. This resistance to both pre-determined categories and any studied remove from social realities provided the framework for an incredibly generative practice that is increasingly resonant in our present cultural context. At the same time, such traits render Eastman uniquely vulnerable as a subject of curation and scholarship, with any story told freighted with the risk of imperiling his work’s rich complexity and, yes, contradictions.

The Kitchen is therefore very proud to co-present “That Which Is Fundamental” with curators Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Dustin Hurt of Bowerbird, and to collaborate on this occasion with peer organizations ISSUE Project Room and Knockdown Center. We are deeply grateful as well to the dozens of artists and instrumentalists placing their work in the service of this ambitious reconsideration of Eastman (and especially to Molissa Fenley for returning with her collaboration with Eastman, Geologic Moments). We must also acknowledge the numerous artists who have conducted new oral histories—and, in the case of curator Christopher McIntyre, penned a new transcription—as part of this continuing effort to unearth Eastman’s legacy. (Along these lines, it is important to cite as well the groundbreaking work of Clarice Jensen whose transcription of Joan d’Arc premiered here as part of our “From Minimalism into Algorithm” program in 2016.) And we cannot thank enough Gerry Eastman and the Eastman Estate, as well as the foundations and individuals who provided the essential support that gave us the confidence necessary to move forward with this project, including Robert Bielecki, Paula Cooper, Molly Davies, Rebecca and Marty Eisenberg, and Agnes Gund.

We also wish to extend a special thanks to Nico Muhly. Three years ago, The Kitchen approached the composer as we were developing the project “From Minimalism into Algorithm,” which considered the evolution of serial repetition and found objects in art and music toward another constellation of contemporary relationships between composition, production, and identity. Without hesitation, Muhly pointed us first and foremost to Eastman and his history with The Kitchen. It’s incredibly exciting finally to have those works, and Eastman’s legacy, so realized in this program. 

—Tim Griffin

Photo: Ron Hammond

Limited Edition Adam Pendleton Print in Conjunction with
“Julius Eastman: That Which is Fundamental”

On the occasion of the largest overview of composer Julius Eastman’s work to date—titled “Julius Eastman: That Which is Fundamental” and taking place at The Kitchen, January 19–February 10, 2018—artist Adam Pendleton created this special limited-edition print. Proceeds from the sale of this limited edition directly support this landmark project celebrating the life, work, and resurgent influence of Julius Eastman (1940–1990), a gay African-American composer and performer who was active internationally in the 1970s and ’80s (when he frequently performed at The Kitchen) but who died homeless at the age of 49, leaving behind an incomplete but compelling collection of scores and recordings that are receiving newfound acclaim.

Preparing to make the work from Eastman archival materials (including a sampling of Eastman’s handwritten notes), Pendleton chose to respond to the jarring titles of the composer’s most iconic pieces—such as Gay Guerrilla, Femenine, Nigger Faggot, Evil Nigger, Crazy Nigger—in which the composer layers confrontational language and implicit commentary atop the otherwise predominantly formal subversion of minimalist music. In this regard, Eastman’s work would assert identity politics well before the mainstream art world to take issues of marginalization—or any spheres beyond heterosexual whiteness—seriously at all in practice. 

On his choice of the N-word in his titles, Eastman said, “Now, the reason I use that particular word is because, for me, it has what I call a ‘basicness’ about it. That is to say, I feel that in any case, the first niggers were of course field niggers, and upon that is really the basis of what I call the American economic system. Without field niggers, you wouldn’t really have such a great and grand economy that we have. So that is what I call the first and great nigger, field niggers. And what I mean by niggers is that thing which is fundamental, that person or thing that attains a ‘basicness,’ a ‘fundamentalness,’ and it eschews that thing that is superficial or, what can we say, elegant. So a nigger for me is that kind of thing which is attains himself or herself to the ground of anything.”

Adam Pendleton himself added, “Julius Eastman created a space for new kinds of language and bodies in relationship to minimalism, and his presence, as a composer, disrupts a historical cannon that might otherwise be too easily articulated. I’d like to think, that by virtue of being a gay guerrilla I can also rightfully claim to be a crazy nigger.”

Pendleton Web

Adam Pendleton
Crazy Nigger (for Julius Eastman), 2018 Silkscreen ink on paper
31 x 24 inches / 86.4 x 60.9 cm
Edition of 20 + 5 APs
Signed and numbered by the artist
$1000 plus sales tax



Prints will be sold in the order inquiries are received.Once purchased, works can be picked up at The Kitchen during normal business hours after an appointment is made. If the work is to be shipped, you will be charged an additional fee for shipping and handling.

For more information, please contact editions@thekitchen.org.

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