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In her video The Semiotics of the Kitchen, Martha Rosler isn't too happy to be in the kitchen. So why is it included in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's cookware exhibition?

By Alyssa Shaw

Imagine yourself as a child, frolicking through your parents’ back yard and digging up worms. Your mother calls you in from the kitchen for dinner and you bound in through the back door, smelling the roast she’s been tending to for the past few hours. At the table your father sits reading the newspaper, your sister fidgeting with a bow in her hair. Before you is the same familiar spread: off-white plates, clear glasses, spotless silverware, uniform serving utensils, and of course, the butter dish. You think nothing of the materials off of which you shovel food into your mouth, moving as quickly as possible to resume your outdoor activities. For hours your mother slaved over the stove to prepare your meal, but that won’t cross your mind until present day when, as an adult, you prepare meals for yourself and maybe even your own children. Now is a time when you’ve come to understand the worth of quality Tupperware, the importance of a sturdy teakettle.

This summer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you can take your newfound appreciation for kitchenware to another level. “The Main Dish” is composed of display cases plainly contrived so as to draw focus on the objects within them, like original Tupperware or decades old decanters. The arrangements evoke a strange feeling of appreciation for kitchenware as art, as many of the items are expertly crafted yet have obvious functionality. The show centers around the notion that the gadgets, cutlery, and dishware in today’s kitchens mirror the qualities of ideal homemakers: “polished, efficient, organized/contained, decorative/entertaining, and clean/tidy.”

The preceding scene may seem a bit idealistic, but that’s more or less how I spent my childhood days. My mother would concoct delicious meals and keep our home near spotless because, as a stay-at-home mom, that was her job. At one time, she was a working woman, but opted to stay home once I was born. This was common for mothers during that time, but today it’s not always the case. Women seem to be more career-oriented, and more fathers are staying home with the kids while mom works, or children are spending more time in daycare.



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