In Good in the Kitchen, curator John Mulvaney explores the ways in which societal changes in the mid to late 20th century have reshaped the production of contemporary art. Specifically, the exhibition addresses how both men and women portray ideas about domesticity in a post-feminist environment.
Drawing from the Tamarind Gallery’s enormous print collection, the exhibition consists of 19 lithographs and 12 artists—with an almost equal ratio of males and females. Stylistically, the images vary considerably, but as a group they deal with the concept of traditional female roles in society through the representation of objects that, historically, have been considered intrinsically feminine.
Mulvaney is quick to clarify that his intention was to celebrate the concept of feminism purely as a social movement—and outside of a political arena. Prior to the mid-20th century, Mulvaney says that “artists (particularly women) were used to identifying with male-dominated iconography,” but he believes that changing ideals in the 1960s had a profound effect on artists of both genders by freeing them to create a new iconographic language that may not have occurred to them previously.
One of the most visually striking images in Good in the Kitchen is Marc Licari’s “Mr. Clean.” It’s a colorful representation of an early model vacuum cleaner engulfed in flames and an outpouring of smoke. Frenetic lines emphasize a feeling of frustration. Clearly, this machine is at the very end of its rope, as it were, perhaps also indicating the emotional state of the people utilizing it. “We’ve all had that feeling,” chuckled Shelly Smith, Tamarind’s Development and Marketing Director, as we approached the piece.
“Holiday” by Harrell Fletcher, is centrally located in the room, and one of the only figural images in the show. A highly-stylized image of a young girl—and part of her reflection—is placed asymmetrically against a dreary gray background. “This is a key image in the show,” said Mulvaney. “It shows where ‘She’ has been and where ‘She’ is ultimately going.” A lack of contextual information, her wary expression, and the compositional imbalance are all illustrative of the pressure and expectations that surround the ideas of femininity and domestic responsibility—even at a very young age.
However, Marie Watts’ lithograph “Blanket Stories Continuum” addresses domesticity in a positive manner. “Blanket Stories” is a visual weaving of commentary about the comfort of blankets, and a result of an installation piece that Watts did several years ago. At that time, she made available to viewers a blank book in which they were invited to share their stories regarding blankets. “The entries in these books range equally between the voices of men and women—which might speak to the universal role blankets play in our lives,” she says. “In the print, ‘Blanket Stories Continuum,’ the stories suggest a warp and weft that connect us.”
John Mulvaney also curated Tamarind’s 50th Anniversary show in 2009, and while pouring over more than 6,000 prints in the collection, he says that the theme of domesticity explored in Good in the Kitchen “presented itself.” It seems that Mulvaney’s ultimate goal regarding this exhibition is to encourage the viewer to contemplate the changes regarding what artists of both genders feel is worthy of artistic attention in a post-feminist society. Representations of domesticity in art such as those in Good in the Kitchen are “unexpected byproducts of the feminist movement,” and Mulvaney hopes to see this concept addressed on a larger scale sometime in the future.