Tim Griffin’s Second Act

The major challenge Mr. Griffin faces going forward, however, is the increasing mainstream acceptance of the very forms of expression that made the Kitchen so unique in the 70’s and 80’s. As media and performance art become a major crowd-draw in museum programming, the Kitchen’s mission of taking “unusual creative risks” in genres that have long reputations of being inaccessible, but are no longer unusually creative in and of themselves, has become more complicated.

“Sometimes subversion can be a style and it loses its attraction, or its element of provocation,” Mr. Griffin said. “I think we live in a time so often defined by consensus and taking the safest path.” And here he shifted once again to the second person, but he could only be speaking of himself: “What you need to do is create as provocative a space as possible.”

The Observer mentioned what Ms. Goldberg had said a few days before, that the world was catching up with the Kitchen. 

“We’ll have to change that,” Mr. Griffin said, without pause.

After an interview, Mr. Griffin and The Observer walked in the rain to his new employer at 512 W. 19th Street, in the heart of the Chelsea art gallery district, with Blake Zidell, the Kitchen’s publicist. Mr. Griffin talked about the early days of Time Out, where he was a critic (and the runner up for the arts editor job) and the joy of writing about theater (“Suddenly, your writing is on this placard with exclamation points,” he said happily). We took the elevator up to the office to find Ms. Singer, the Kitchen’s current director, at a table in the office with her staff, all of them closely studying a series of video stills. She wore the expression of someone who had been deep in thought for the past several hours, if not years, and had the panda-eyed weariness of someone who doesn’t get enough sleep, which somehow made her look more refined.  

“Hi,” she said, jarred as if being pulled down to earth.

Mr. Griffin hung back near the room’s entrance, his shyness palpable as he looked at the floor, not quite thrilled about interrupting. He was cautious about going to the Kitchen to begin with. He doesn’t want to be the new guy who shows his face too much too soon. A feeling lingered in the air of a new family moving into a house a day early, forcing out the previous tenants in the midst of their goodbyes. 

“Have you seen our view of the High Line?” Ms. Singer said after what felt like a long silence. “We have a great view of the High Line.”

The Observer awkwardly walked to the window–feeling every eye in the room follow, including Mr. Griffin’s–and looked at the black steel column of repurposed subway track, snaking through the gallery district, rain-splattered and imposing in the gray afternoon.

“And our shop?” Ms. Singer said. “Have you seen our shop? It’s where we make things. We’re very proud of our shop.”

I walked over to the other side of the room and peered into the shop, a small square the size of an extravagant walk-in closet with a high ceiling. There were power tools and stacks of wood and steel strewn about on shelves and the floor.

“It’s good,” The Observer said, unsure what to say. 

“It is good,” Ms. Singer said.

“I hope we’re not intruding,” The Observer said, though The Observer had rarely felt so intrusive.

“No, not intruding. We’re just,” she exhaled ever so slightly, “struggling.”

“That means we’re intruding,” Mr. Griffin said. There were brisk farewells and we walked out of the room.

We ended up in the theater, where a performance group was in the midst of receiving notes from their director. Again Mr. Griffin stood back, in the shadows of the theater’s seats, only now his gaze was fixed on the room, his mind presumably racing with thoughts of things to come.

mmiller@observer.com