Arcane Fire

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To See: “Counter Space” at MoMA

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If you read this blog regularly, then you would know I spend a lot of time posting about kitchens that I want or love.  So, it should come as no surprise that the new exhibit at MoMA, “Counter Space,” is at the top of my list of things to do in New York when I get back for fall break in a few weeks.  The New York Times writes a really wonderful review analyzing the role of the kitchen in society, and why its function is both so essential and controversial.  The article starts by recognizing the kitchen as a historically symbolic space, and then examines the evolution of the more modern functions of the kitchen.  The argument goes: as social and political forces required the world to change, the kitchen followed every step of the way.  The world wars, for example, demanded more efficient use of metals and gas, and also required more women to enter the work place.  Accordingly, kitchens, ovens, sinks, coffee makers, fresh foods, and so forth adapted to reflect the demands at the time.  I suppose this argument could be made for lots of things, but the kitchen seems especially significant because almost every home is equipped with a kitchen.  It’s a microcosm of the ever-changing technological and health advancements in the world, but personalized to you, and in your home.

But in the main, “Counter Space” sprints with dazzling speed and pinpoint precision across an amazing amount of social and aesthetic history, and shows how these histories are connected. The kitchen’s design evolution meshed with the new availability of gas and electricity; with the rise of cities, the middle class and health consciousness; with early stabs at prefab housing; with the growing independence of women; and of course with the emergence of modern design itself, as a self-consciously forward-looking, socially minded discipline whose brief was to improve everyday life for all.

Basically, Le Corbusier (fun fact: his name was once a contender for this blog’s name) was right when he said:  “If a house is a machine for living then the kitchen is its engine.”

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Written by doorr

September 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm

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