The topic of MoMA’s latest show, the evolution of the modern kitchen, has universal appeal: Everyone spends some time in their kitchen, even if it’s just reheating leftovers. Curated by Juliet Kinchin and Aidan O’Connor of MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen, is an examination of the kitchen’s role “as a barometer of changing aesthetics, technologies, and ideologies.” The exhibit includes almost 300 works drawn from the museum’s collection, including design objects, architectural plans, posters, photographs, and archival films.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is an unusually complete example of the “Frankfurt Kitchen”, designed by Austrian-born architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000), the earliest work of a female architect in MoMA’s collection. After World War I, about 10,000 of these kitchens were manufactured for public-housing estates built around Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany as a part of a five year program to modernize the city. The kitchen’s compact design is the reverse of today’s McMansionesque kitchen spaces where you need a Segway to get from the oven to the sink. I thought the kitchen looked familiar, and Kinchin proudly explained that while I did see another sample of it on display during the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Modernism: Designing a New World exhibition in London in 2007, the unit she has acquired for MoMA is a complete example.

Kitchen aficionados will enjoy the products on display, particularly items such as the iconic Bialetti espresso maker (c. 1930) and the unusual Corning glass frying pan (1940), but I think the strongest part of the show is the collection of poster design, particularly the wartime propaganda pieces. L.N. Britton’s piece that instructs Americans to eat less sugar, meat, and fat in order to save them for “the army and our allies” rather than to be healthy, was a particular favorite. Alas, the gift shop doesn’t plan to sell reproductions of the posters, which is a shame.

I didn’t understand however the rationale for including several of the pieces in the show: a Dyson vacuum cleaner (1994-95) and plastic Japanese food items that restaurants display in their windows
(c. 1975) in particular, didn’t seem to connect to the theme. Also, the Irving Penn photos of a cracked egg (Broken Egg, New York, 1958) and frozen veggies (Frozen Foods, New York, 1977) seemed a bit like filler. Through March 14, 2011. 

blog post photo
Juliet Kinchin, Curator, MoMA giving opening remarks at the show's press preview. 

blog post photo
Corning Glass Frying Pan, c. 1942

blog post photo
Juicy Salif Lemon Squeezer, Philippe Starck, 1988

blog post photo
Frankfurt Kitchen, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (Austrian, 1897-2000)

blog post photo
Die Praktische Küche (The Practical Kitchen), 1930 Helene Haasbauer-Wallrath (Swiss, 1885-1968)

Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen
September 15, 2010- March 14, 2011
The Michael H. Dunn Gallery, Second Floor

The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Supported by Silestone Quartz Surfaces