My Trip to MOMA's Design and the Modern Kitchen Exhibit

Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen has been up at New York City's Museum of Modern Art since September, but it took me until this past weekend to finally see it. For a cook and a lover of thoughtful design, this exhibit goes deep, so I ended up going back a second time in order to take it all in.

There are gadgets from a c.1940 six-sided cookie cutter to a set of 1920s ultra-modern sauce pots. One of my favorite parts of the collection is a fascinating display of WWII propaganda posters encouraging British citizens to plant gardens and eat more rabbit. (Those who follow me on twitter may have noticed me tweeting each and every one of them last Saturday morning, and I also include them in the gallery of this post.)

In case you forgot you were in an art museum, the exhibit also features an area called "Kitchen Sink Dramas" which honors the fact that since the 1960s, kitchens have grown into a rich subject for artistic expression.

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The exhibition is divided into three sections. “The New Kitchen” covers design before World War II, presenting the kitchen almost as a hygienic laboratory space, though some, like the Frankfurt kitchen at the center of the exhibit, are quite beautiful. The Frankfurt Kitchen is one of 10,000 manufactured for public-housing complexes in Germany in the 1920s as part of a plan to modernize the city of Frankfurt. The second area, “Visions of Plenty” looks at postwar kitchens, from the colorful materials and fully-automated appliances of the 1950s to the more environmentally conscious design of the 1970s.

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Finally, the last section explores art that portrays the kitchen. With photographs, prints and films by artists like Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman, “Kitchen Sink Dramas” examines the kitchen as artistic subject, and how it has been used to address larger themes of politics, economics and gender.

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The glass case of kitchen gadgets is filled with items I know sat in my grandmothers' kitchen drawers. There are even some items, like the Tupperware popsicle mold, that I remember in my own childhood kitchen, in all its BPA glory.

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The posters are really striking. With the state of the world as it is at the moment — MOMA has a giant collection box in its entrance for the Red Cross's efforts in Japan — I found myself staring at these posters and being transposed to another time, when the world's tumult was based in a different kind of suffering. Or is it really that different? Thrifty aesthetics and a labor-saving ethos never grows old; it's about how to get enough food to eat and maintain daily life in the face of combat and rations. The exhibit really is a coming together of art, history, politics, sex and of course, food. Life.

If you haven't been, it's worth a trip. If you live outside of NYC, you can view much of the exhibit online on MOMA's Design and the Modern Kitchen website.

For more coverage of kitchen design on TheKitchn.com, check out our archive of Kitchen Design posts.

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Sara Kate is the founding editor of The Kitchn. She co-founded the site in 2005 and has since written three cookbooks. She is most recently the co-author of The Kitchn Cookbook, to be published in October 2014 by Clarkson Potter.

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