Alan Ruiz, Container and Contained, June 17 - July 31, 2021, Installation view at The Kitchen. Photo by Phoebe d'Heurle.

Alan Ruiz

Container and Contained

On View: June 17-July 31, 2021

512 W 19th Street

Opening day hours:

June 19, 3–6pm EDT


Tuesday–Saturday, 11am–6pm EDT

The Kitchen is pleased to present Container and Contained, the first institutional exhibition in New York City by artist Alan Ruiz. Ruiz’s practice considers the way the built environment engenders social hierarchies through an array of media, standards, and techniques. The exhibition includes three works that explore the redistribution of value and authority through multiple systems.

With the exhibition’s central work—Transfer II (WS-B690-L40) (2021)—Ruiz has leased 300 square feet of The Kitchen’s air rights (all that remains in the organization’s possession) for the duration of one year and at the cost of $1/month, radically below their market value. “Air rights” refer to a building’s development rights, or the cubic volume of air over an existing structure that can be developed legally based on the 1961 Zoning Resolution. Air rights are tradable assets, commodities exchanged among Real Estate developers that endow certain properties with the right to develop vertically beyond the city’s zoning laws. These resulting “supertall” structures have redefined the shape and outline of the city and, more often, cast it in shadow.

Transfer II (WS-B690-L40) legally redistributes The Kitchen’s remaining tradable cubic volume of air over 512 West 19th Street to the artist, thus placing a temporary hold on the immaterial asset from entering into other forms of exchange. The work remains within this container so long as the lease is in effect. Yet because of the nature of the lease, which establishes an ongoing relationship between parties, this work suggests a dynamic interdependence between the artist and institution, who both serve to contain one another. The interplay established between Ruiz and The Kitchen as lessee and lessor is extended to adjacent properties through The Kitchen’s past sales of 10,000 square feet of air rights to surrounding development—electrifying the complex web of relations or systems in which The Kitchen’s building is only one part to a large whole. Transfer II (WS-B690-L40) has also been recorded with the city via NYC’s Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS). Recording this document makes the work a part of the building’s history through municipal archives. Enacted within the existing forms of property rights and transfers, the temporary lease perpetuates a range of possible effects. Just as any speculative asset is a projection into an unpredictable future, the recording of this Memorandum of Lease raises questions about potentially affecting the property’s air rights as a depressed value in the future.

On The Kitchen’s ground floor—in a space typically used as a theater—WS-C-62A; WS-C-62B (2021) partitions the space through a series of thresholds and apertures. The form of these units, and the standardized armatures that contain them, echo surrounding luxury development. Windows exist at the boundary between interior and exterior and often index a border between private and public, accumulation and dispossession. As media that has historically served as a covert index of class position, the potential occlusion of windows in the city’s endless expansion skyward further suggests that these thresholds and boundaries exist not only at the limits of containment but as parts of a system that spectacularizes access to light and air. As forms common to the envelope of a building, such apertures also enframe the fantasy of an organization's capacity for transparency, giving rise to speculation on what exists inside.

The tension between what an institution holds, both in its history and futurity, is further signaled in VIII (2021), a score-based work that indexes various registers of time in The Kitchen’s day-to-day operations, from the banality of its eight-hour workday to its fifty-year institutional legacy of artistic experimentation.

In advance of the exhibition, The Kitchen partnered with the New York Center for the Study of Groups, Organizations, and Social Systems to host an online group relations forum in the Tavistock Tradition on June 5. Entitled Standards, Structures, and Institutions: Reimagining Authority, Value and ______ in a World of Difference, this one-day event was designed by Ruiz and Dr. Patrick Jean-Pierre to facilitate participants in exploring societal experiences that both subjugate and free us, using a systems psychodynamic lens to work with and confront the standards, structures, and institutions—both visible and invisible, literal and unconscious—that define our internal and shared external world.

Alan Ruiz: Container and Contained is organized by Matthew Lyons. This exhibition marks the culmination of Ruiz’s residency at The Kitchen.


Alan Ruiz is an artist whose work explores the way space is produced both as material and as ideology. His work has been shown in exhibitions at the Queens Museum, The Storefront for Art and Architecture, The Kitchen, TG, Nottingham, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. His writing has been featured in Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, Millenium Film Journal, TDR, BOMB Magazine, Archinect, Headmaster, and InVisible Culture, among others. He has participated in residencies with Whitney Museum’s Youth Insights Program, Abrons Arts Center and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Ruiz received an MFA from Yale University and was a fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program. He teaches at Pratt Institute and in the Department of Visual Studies at The New School.


Alan Ruiz: Container and Contained is made possible with support from Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, and Joseph and Joan Cullman Foundation for the Arts; and in part by public funds from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Season programming is also made possible with support from The Kitchen’s Board of Directors and The Kitchen Leadership Fund.

The artist would like to thank Creative Capital for additional support.