Come on in my kitchen, then go see Vito Acconci


Chere Krakovsky's kitchen
Chere Krakovsky serving coffee and lunch in her kitchen at International House. Ann is sitting down being served.

When I walked up the steps and into Chere Krakovsky‘s kitchen in the lobby of International House, the artist was sitting at the table with a young man, having a conversation and drinking coffee. She got up, came over and welcomed me and then introduced me to her guest, a Temple grad from India who lives in IHouse and works in the financial industry. He drank tea, I had coffee. We talked about art and India (there are not many art schools in India he said) and New York and Philly. It was calm and congenial — no emotional baggage or family politics in this kitchen.

Krakovsky started telling stories, which is something that usually happens over a kitchen table. In answer to my question of how she became a performance/installation/immersion artist she told me this story:

She was a painter and not happy with it. So she gave up painting and started approaching art from a different angle. She started wrapping up trash or doing installations, but it still wasn’t enough.

She wanted to put herself into the art. She wanted to take acting and wanted to do performance art. She didn’t know how to do it but she was off and running, with projects that included handing out white roses on a street corner in her East Village neighborhood and laying 55 roses on a sidewalk in Iowa City to represent the 55 Iowa soldiers killed in Iraq. (why Iowa City? Krakovsky went to high school there and has friends there).

“Everything in my life changed in the last two years,” she said. She had gone to Columbia grad school but dropped out. (Now she is in a graduate program at Goddard College in Vermont. It’s a distance learning/low residency program so she only has to go there a few weeks each year).  “This is it. Now I have to put my money where my mouth is,” she said. Her first performance was a year and a half ago up at Goddard. She found a pillowcase with a landscape picture on it and brought it to a group critique. She pinned it on the wall and got up and said …”I’m committed to this. It’s appropriation but it’s also coming from me. I’m vulnerable. You can ask me any question.”

People were raising hands and she told them not to raise their hands. One of the best questions she got was about the green shirt she was wearing and whether she planned that, i.e., to be in sync with the landscape in the pillow case.  ” I said no. But isn’t that the best?”

Krakovsky, who is soft spoken and a listener as well as a talker, exudes the whimsical otherworldliness of a ’60s era hippie flower child.  (When I heard about her piece handing out flowers on New York street corners it really fit what I was observing — a child-like generosity).  But at the same time she’s serious about her art and this piece, for example, she bankrolled herself, hiring a mover to move her own furniture and appliances to Philly (and back again) and buying the food and drinks that will feed everyone who stops in.  International House provided her with a bedroom for a week.

I asked Krakovsky how she was cooking in the kitchen that did NOT have a kitchen sink (or a stove .. and when the microwave is on you have to unplug the mini refrigerator.)  Here’s the story she told.

“I couldn’t get a hot plate.  It was one of my low moments,” she said.  Then, two Korean students approached her kitchen politely waiting to be invited in.  They asked her if she needed anything and she told them she needed a hot plate.  They said “what’s a hot plate?”  Krakovsky drew them a picture of it and they went off.  Much later they came back with a single burner hot plate and said do you need another one?  She told them yes and off they went to get her another one (she reimbursed them).

Another story she told was about Dore, an Israeli first year student at Penn who had adopted her and her kitchen as a kind of hangout of his own.  No sooner had she told me about Dore than the kid walks in, and without saying a word opens the refrigerator to see what’s good to eat, clearly operating as the teenage son to Chere’s older sister/mother figure.

Dore, who had just come back from a trip to California where he had seen his first garage sales ever (and had bought a bunch of great stuff for, like $10) told a story about seeing Krakovsky move in the first night with her boxes all over the place and how — thinking garage sale — he went right over and started rummaging through the boxes, until he found out they were part of the kitchen.

Ann's feast, or part of it, in Brooklyn. Ann staged the feast in order to take photos, which she will use as the basis for a mural on the wall of Vetri, one of Philadelphia's premier restaurants.
Ann’s feast, or part of it, in Brooklyn. Ann staged the feast in order to take photos, which she will use as the basis for a mural on the wall of Vetri, one of Philadelphia’s premier restaurants.

At this point my friend Ann Northrup arrived.  Ann, who had coordinated a feast in Brooklyn last month where she had brought all the food, utensils, bowls, silverware, cups, dishes and all to Brooklyn for the meal, summarized a Grimm’s Fairy Tale for Krakovsky and me about a girl who leaves home bringing her chair with her (you can’t be at home without your chair) while she’s looking for her five missing brothers who have been turned into ravens.  Krakovsky was delighted with the story and so Ann wrote down the synopsis for her for future reference.

Ann explained to Dore that her Brooklyn feast was for the purpose of taking photographs so she could design a mural in Philadelphia.  Dore said what’s a mural?  Ann explained about Philly’s mural programs and how her new mural would be on the side of Vetri, a premiere Philadelphia restaurant.

All in all, Krakovsky’s kitchen experience was better than going to a spa (although I’ve never been, so I’m only imagining).  It was a time out from the real world that felt like a trip to the past — to a kitchen that never was and that had no emotional baggage that came with it — and where the only obligation was to immerse yourself in coffee and talk and forget the deadlines, chores, worries of your normal life.  It was a great gift.

The reason the piece was in International House is that Drucilla, Marketing Director of International Huse had come to see the show Habitat at Abington Art Center, where Krakovsky had set up her living room.  “She was very spontaneous and said ‘you should come to International House.'” So Krakovsky said yes, she’d like to do that and she’d bring her kitchen and be there for a week.

“Everything is art, art is everything” said Alan Kaprow, the father of “happenings.” This is very much the spirit in which Krakovsky is operating. She is her art and her art is she.

Ann and I spent two hours in the kitchen.   It’s easy to pass the time in a place where fighting is not, where conversation is easy and gentle and where free food and drink appear as if by magic. The feeling of being taken care of is exquisite. It’s a reminder of life’s beginning — when parents do it all for you, and of life’s end — when others will be there (that is the hope) to do for you when you cannot.

Vito Acconci–not in the kitchen–at Slought
Vito Acconci
Vito Acconci, seen here in a video made when he spoke to a class of undergraduate curatorial studies students at Penn.Performance artist Vito Acconci — featured in a documentary show at Slought — was never about the warmth of the kitchen, but, like all performers of actions he set himself a task and completed it come hell or high water.

Vito Acconci
Acconci documentation of his Biting piece, in which he bites himself in one of his performances.

All performance requires a spirit of can-do coupled with a need to perform a task involving endurance. I guess if there were art olympics the performance art event would be the triathalon. It’s for the truly super-charged.

Libby told you about Acconci’s talk at Penn, a revelatory romp through his works that gave me a eureka moment about the artist. I could never figure out why he left performance work for architecture. It just didn’t seem to flow and I harbored dark thoughts about the artist selling out for the Public Art commission money. But no, turns out Acconci, who didn’t train as an artist but has a degree in writing from the Iowa Writers Program, has always been a fish out of water as an artist.   His restless quest took him through poetry and words to body art to architectural art for other people’s bodies — it all makes sense. He’s a restless guy and nothing satisfied him until now when he’s working with a big studio and generating blue-sky ideas for what might be considered architectural follies (many of them are unrealized) that  have to do with social space and interpersonal dynamics — which is what his work has always been about.

Vito Acconci
Ann sitting in the Poetry Table at Slought. It wasn’t clear whether you sat on the table (how many tables do you sit on?) so we posited that it was an Acconci conceptual thing and that maybe he meant for you to get uncomfortable and sit on the floor. Ann, being the more limber of the two of us (she’s a rower) got right down there and sat on the floor.

The Acconci show at Slought (up to the 31st) is documentary and more than half of it is about his architectural projects with Acconci Studios. The artist’s works in the ’60s were brilliant. They far outshine the architectural works, which have a festival-like brittle cheeriness to them that doesn’t appeal, to me at least. But I am happy to see this artist get attention because, for a new crop of artists who don’t know about his earlier works, it’s a great introduction to a big thinker.


chere krakovsky, vito acconci



Sign up to receive Artblog’s weekly newsletter and updates sent directly to your inbox.

Subscribe Today!