Jennifer Rubell, “Housewife”
through February 26th
179 East Broadway
New York NY 10002
By INGRID DINTER, FEB. 2017
Jennifer Rubell wants you to interact with her. Really. Step right in, and up. Case in point, enter Ms. Rubell’s latest solo exhibition at Sargent’s Daughters and behold a pedestal holding an upright vacuum cleaner along side a pair of shiny pointy red stilettos. You are invited to step up and into the spikey shoes (size 12, mind you—gender equal), and steady yourself with a grip on the household workhorse cleaner. Then have a friend take your photograph! This act is intended as a reflection on the idea of the housewife—definitely wife, in terms of being married, to a husband—taking care of a home, in a house, in terms of exclusive devotion to the notion of the care and nurture of said hard working provider husband.
The 1950’s come to mind, that post-war era, when the men came home and life was pulled securely back together again. The men were the breadwinners, and the women took care of the home, with a well defined separation of labor. The expectation was that women would slave in the domestic sphere all day long (cooking, cleaning, looking after the kids), and be ready to greet the otherwise slaving and exhausted husband at the door upon his return to the nest, ready with a relaxing cocktail, cozy conversation pit, and delicious dinner.
That sets the stage for the large sculpture visibly positioned at the back of the exhibition space. Namely, a life-size doorframe, on a pedestal, with a door opened inward, and a naked horizontal, life-size figure floating in midair in front (a mannequin based on the artists own body). Immediately one thinks of old-fashioned photographs of newly weds: the groom lifting his bride across the threshold, into their new life together. Only, in this position she won’t fit through the door. Or, is he carrying her out? And why is she naked? You, dear viewer, are invited to step up from the back, into the doorframe and extend your arms to cradle the figure…
On our way from the vacuum cleaner with stilettos to the doorframe with figure, we pass by a larger than life size orange cartoon-like figure—existing from the hips down, sturdy thighs in full stride—with a lid on top. Pop the lid and you have a cookie jar, filled to overflowing (or, maybe not so much now) with chocolate chip cookies, home made by none other than the artist herself. Help yourself! Can you figure out who is being depicted?
In between these 3 large pieces are a series of six panels, installed like canvases on several walls. Uniform in size—58 x 40 inches—and color—a kind of institutional beige, resembling canvas—they are, in fact, standard issue public bathroom partitions. Ms. Rubell has taken red oilstick, carefully selected to resemble red lipstick, and drawn hearts—single, in groups, outlines, filled in, some with real red lipstick kisses—in a reference to bathroom graffiti. All have a phone number prominently displayed—the same number, a real number, Jennifer Rubell’s actual telephone number! Please call her. She wants you to.
Between the sculptures and the “paintings” one can ponder the meaning and references to the idea of the housewife. How does this fit into modern life? Women, and men, are no longer required by social norms to marry, or else. One has a choice. At least for now. Ms. Rubell has personally chosen to have a couple of kids with no visible presiding male. She is not obliged to line herself up near the front door at 6pm to warmly greet a hardworking spouse, to erase his burdens with her undomestic charms, to provide dinner. Nor does she expect to be carried by some dashing male over a threshold into a brand new life. We are much sturdier now. Striding into campaigns to break glass ceilings, such as the top political leadership position in the land—though, having to profess baking skills somewhere along the way seems to have been a requirement. The housewife trades the stilettos for a pair of unseen sensible walking shoes. But is still made to keep a lid on it.
And yet she can reflect back on the days, presumably young and carefree, when tossing fate to the winds she could leave her phone number in a public space and maybe find a soul mate, at best, to interact with.
This exhibition reflects on various aspects of the housewife option—before, during, after …Yum—those cookies sure are good! WM
Ingrid Dinter is an independent curator and sometime writer, based in New York City. She was the owner of Dinter Fine Art, a gallery in Chelsea, from 2004 to 2009. Besides curating 35 exhibitions at the gallery, she also curated “Consider The Oyster” at Graham & Sons (2010) and “Summer Salt” at The Proposition (2011), as well as an ongoing artists film program called “Bohemian Nights”, shown at various venues including the Gershwin Hotel (New York City), The Emerald Tablet (San Francisco), and at IMC LAB (New York).
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