Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (Austrian, 1897-2000). Frankfurt Kitchen from the Ginnheim-Höhenblick Housing Estate, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (reconstruction). 1926–27. Various materials, 8’9” x 12’10” x 6’10” (266.7 x 391.2 x 208.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Joan R. Brewster in memory of her Husband George W.W. Brewster, by exchange and the Architecture & Design Purchase Fund. Image courtesy of MoMA.

Counter Space: The Evolution of the Kitchen, running at New York’s Museum of Modern Art through March 2011, chronicles the rise of the kitchen as a defining possession of the twentieth-century Western middle class.

Starting with the iconic post-World-War-I German concept of Grete Schütte-Lihotzky’s “Frankfurt Kitchen,” which “reflected a commitment to transforming the lives of ordinary people on an ambitious scale,” the exhibit shows how kitchens a central part of what defines domesticity:

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…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 1969 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 exhibit is presented in conjunction with this past summer’s hardcover Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art. The New York Times and NPR both have interesting reviews of the exhibit.

Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen runs through March 14, 2011 in the Michael H. Dunn Gallery on the second floor of the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York City.

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