A Woman's Work
By Laura M. Browning in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 12, 2011 7:20PM
Ann Toebbe, The Grocer's Wife, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
The Museum of Contemporary Art’s 12 x 12 series comes to a close this month with Ann Toebbe’s trio of “cut-paper paintings” (don’t worry: there will still be a dedicated space for Chicago artists). The paintings are made up of thousands of hand-painted pieces of paper, all of which Toebbe meticulously pieces together to form a scene from other women’s memories.
For the 12 x 12 series, Toebbe created three large works that curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm describes as “intricate and ambitious.” Toebbe asked her mother, stepmother-in-law, and mother-in-law to remember the kitchens of their childhoods. The results, The Grocer’s Wife, The Doctor’s Wife, and The Photoengraver’s Wife, depict the kitchens of these matriarchs as remembered by their daughters and described to Toebbe.
Toebbe stayed true to the gaps in their memories; in The Grocer’s Wife, her stepmother-in-law most vivid memories were of the sea of blue linoleum covering the floors, the counter tops, and even the table, and the curved Bakelite handles on the cabinetry. Toebbe plays with perspective, with what she calls the “free spirit of folk art,” and with how her (step)mother(s in-law) remembered their childhood kitchens. Each piece is oriented around the strongest memory and seems to unfold from that point, flattening into multiple perspectives.
Perhaps the most interesting theme of Toebbe’s kitchens is the thread of modern feminism that runs through them. As she investigates the physical space of each kitchen, she also looks at the role of women in the 1940s and 50s, and how those roles were often defined by their husbands’ jobs. Toebbe worked solely from the memories passed down through the women in her family, and chose to focus this show solely on what was once considered a woman’s space. Her MCA debut is a subtle and beautiful ode to her family’s matriarchs.
Ann Toebbe’s three kitchens are on exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E Chicago, through October 30.