Wednesday, December 8, 2010
How Did Your Kitchen Design Get That Way? Psst - Find Out at MoMa
You’d think with all the kitchen photography for the Homegrown book, not to mention my own obsession with cooking, that I’d be less than eager to visit the New York Museum of Modern Art - MoMa’s “Frankfurt Kitchen.”
But nothing could be further than the truth.
The description in the Arts’ section of The New York Times noted the exhibit is “a point of reference,” and explained the show “explores the 20th –century kitchen and its relationship to food, labor, consumerism and female identify.”
I couldn’t wait to see what was cookin' at the museum about this unique topic.
So right after it opened in September, I eagerly made it an afternoon at MoMa and a respite in the musuem's unparalleled sculpture garden.
By today’s McMansion uber designs, the kitchen dynamic curated in this exhibit might seem puny.
Long before the kitchen became the center of many homes with “aspirational” kitchen technology that rivals industrial kitchens, there was the kitchen that was buried down below for the kitchen staff to maneuver, or tucked away where women toiled.
(I say aspirational for today’s kitchens because so many homes are outfitted with amazing culinary gadgets only to sit idle. People too often eat out or order in or use processed food.)
That phenomena is changing, right?!
I learned that standardization after World War II was a defining feature of modern kitchens.
There was a hopefulness about the promise of technology.
Adjustable stools allowed women to sit and peel vegetables without standing.
Progress is glacial J
The kitchen was also moved closer to the living quarters to Mom could keep her eye on the children while working in the kitchen.
Architects aimed to show the admiration for scientific reason and the desire for a more utopian society as well as transform daily life.
Generally, government and society looked to improve the collective social well-being.
I observed so many of the exhibit-goers pointing out kitchen items and images on the scrims that reminded them of their childhoods spent in the kitchen.
Squealing, some were elbowing others in their group, saying, “I should’ve saved Mom’s ___, fill in the blank; whether it was the blender, Tupperware or Melmac.
I got a mixed message reading the goal at that time was that “every available piece of land must be cultivated.” That's good. (And I loved the show's posters.)
But I couldn't help think this also led to the Levitt-towning of America with all those cookie-cutter tract houses along with ripping the heart out of our small, local farms...
I recommend visiting the exhibit. It explores food culture – it helps explain a lot of what one of my book’s Homegrown chefs described as a food generation lost to Betty Crocker!
In many ways, the mid century kitchen did indeed become the heart of the home.
It did accomplish the goal of transforming society.
With the benefit of hindsight, not all that change made life better though.
I could see the timeline of processed foods, diabetes, and fast food, just, well, fast-forward before my eyes.
But for the time it takes to view the exhibit, you can’t help feel the happy promise that the new kitchen and “liberated” Moms and food technology would not only fuel prosperity but also imbue the “Kitchen Debates” of Nixon and Khrushchev and the entire culture.
MoMa curator Juliet Kinchin and Davin Stowell, founder and CEO of the design consultancy Smart Design were both on the Leonard Lopate, WNYC radio show discussing the exhibit.
Kinchin’s curated a show that produced a combination of a heretofore-unexplored issue fusing history, feminism, architecture, and food.
MoMa’s description of the exhibit is as follows:
Counter Space explores the twentieth-century transformation of the kitchen and highlights MoMA’s recent acquisition of an unusually complete example of the iconic “Frankfurt Kitchen,” designed in 1926–27 by the architect Grete Schütte-Lihotzky. In the aftermath of World War I, thousands of these kitchens were manufactured for public-housing estates being built around the city of Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany. Schütte-Lihotzky’s compact and ergonomic design, with its integrated approach to storage, appliances, and work surfaces, reflected a commitment to transforming the lives of ordinary people on an ambitious scale. Previously hidden from view in a basement or annex, the kitchen became a bridgehead of modern thinking in the domestic sphere—a testing ground for new materials, technologies, and power sources, and a spring board for the rational reorganization of space and domestic labor within the home. Since the innovations of Schütte-Lihotzky and her contemporaries in the 1920s, kitchens have continued to articulate, and at times actively challenge, our relationship to the food we eat, popular attitudes toward the domestic role of women, family life, consumerism, and even political ideology in the case of the celebrated 1959 “Kitchen Debate” that took place between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow at the height of the Cold War. Featured alongside the Frankfurt Kitchen is a 1968 mobile fold-out unit manufactured by the Italian company Snaidero. These two complete kitchens are complemented by a wide variety of design objects, architectural plans, posters, archival photographs, and selected artworks, all drawn from MoMA’s collection. Prominence is given to the contribution of women throughout the exhibition, not only as the primary consumers and users of the domestic kitchen, but also as reformers, architects, designers, and as artists who have critically addressed kitchen culture and myths.
The MoMa kitchen exhibit runs through March14th. 212-708-9400
After touring the exhibit, I visited the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller sculpture garden, naturally.
It is a quintessential urban garden, punctuated by all those sensual Picasso and Giacometti.
Designed by Philip Johnson in 1953 on the same site as Ms. Rockefeller’s town house, it is an outdoor room.
(As an aside, recently I read, "Angeology," a thriller of a story where Abby Rockefeller's guiding help and the garden at MoMa play a critical role. A great read.)
In 2004 architect, Yoshio Tanaguchi redesigned the garden, expanding it yet again.
The garden area is sunken with water reflecting pool or ‘canals” as Johnson called them, weeping birch and beech trees.
It is a peaceful place. A contemplative garden where one can think about and reflect upon the fine art exhibit one has just experienced.
On this day, I saw that Yoko Ono had placed her Wish Tree where visitors could write their wish and place it on a tree branch; with the “promise” the wish would come true.
That was too irresistible and I made a wish for my father…
Next up “must see” at the MoMa is Paula Hayes, Nocturne of the Limax maximus now through February 28, 2011. It features incredible work of landscape designer artist Hayes. Curious and gorgeous living gardens in glass!
According to MoMa:
Since the 1990s, New York–based artist and landscape designer Paula Hayes (b. 1958) has produced botanical sculptures—organically shaped vessels made from blown glass, silicone, or acrylic and filled with a rich variety of plant life—that expand upon the classic terrarium, both through their imaginative containers and the microcosmic universes within. Hayes has conceived an installation for the Museum lobby that includes a fifteen-foot-long, wall-mounted horizontal sculpture for the west wall, and a free-standing, egg-shaped, floor-to-ceiling structure nearby. Organic in form and containing a variety of living plants, the vessels will add a joyful vitality to the lobby, enlivening the space during the winter season.
And Garden Design magazine just wrote about the exhibit too. Kudos for spreading the good word about beautiful gardens.