aesthetic consumerism notes: an update

The photo on the left is from the June 06 Martha Stewart Living, on the right is the Baldizzi kitchen as recreated to c.1935 at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

The Museum is an imaginarium of immigrant struggle. Its cleaned-up, prettified tableaux are irritatingly appealing to me. "People suffered in these stifling hell holes," I have to remind myself... and yet...that linoleum is...
really cute. Somehow the privations of the past become... aspirational./
The Martha aesthetic
rarefies the commonplace and defamiliarizes it
. It takes the everyday and makes it exclusive.//
update: I posted the surreal juxtaposition of Martha Stewart Living and a kitchen in the Lower East Side Tenement Museum at top 5-1/2 years ago. If the Tenement Museum represents the masses of yesteryear cozied up for an afternoon's tour, and Martha Stewart created an aspirational, nostalgic version of that long-ago for today's upscale consumer cognoscenti, what does the Pottery Barn catalog I got recently (above) represent? Dumbing down the rarefied nostalgia of yesteryear's masses for today's masses? Pottery Barn's ticking stripe ironing board covers and French wire hampers share space with prop rotary fans, faux washboard "art" and actual cast-iron hand irons. Seriously, PB is selling old coal-heated hand irons (scavanged from India) and fake washboards to hang in your laundry room. There's something odd going on in the aesthetic zeitgeist when a museum and a mass market catalog look alike. Where is Susan Sontag when you need her?

In related news, I have irrefutable evidence from that same catalog that my own home decorating style has jumped the shark. Scattered old wooden and metal letters? check. framed flea market-sourced antique buttons? check. Animal horns? I'm afraid so. Rusted metal industrial detritus? Color-grouped depression-era pottery? Done and done. Regardless of whether it's time for a change anyway, what does one do when one's formerly "personal" style, accrued over the years from here and there, is on wholesale offer at Pottery Barn? When anyone can buy all their 'vintage-inspired' needs at one fell swoop, what happens to the genuine collection? This nothing new — I'm sure all the peerage of Britain cough into their handkerchiefs at the sight of Ralph Lauren Home—it's just happened so rapidly and completely. And I happened to feel it personally.

I'm not saying I originated a style, I simply gravitated to the objects I was drawn to and my sensibility grew up around that. A sensibility already familiar to some, yes; there was John Derian or Anthropologie or ABC carpet along the way, for reference/inspiration/validation. Now my apartment could be any Brooklyn boutique— or Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn outlet. It feels phony. Yet I still like the horns and the 19th century type specimens and the twee rusted objets. The cognitive dissonance is killing me.

[several comments here are from the original post]
I'd just gotten this linen grain sack (!) up in Hudson, NY when I got the PB catalog.
Their vintage-inspired linen pillow cover, bottom.
five images above, my apartment

Pottery Barn


angvou said...

Oh this is very good. You and I should start a Weekend Philosophers Club. Or something. Perhaps I will make myself a business card:
Angela Voulangas
weekend philosopher

Yes Martha commodifies, definitely. but on a basic level I was thinking she ("she" being stand-in for editorial voice) defamiliarizes. For instance, say there is an article about making giftboxes out of walnut shells (I am totally making this up). A little history about walnuts, a little background about tiny boxes, a very specific (commodified) list of tools, some ethereal photos... All of a sudden I'm feeling like "Wow, gifts... in a *nutshell*... Brilliant! That unusual surface of the shell...Wow."

Anonymous said...

Its very interesting, too, how the lower east side itself has become a fashionable place to live. Most residents may not be reading Martha's magazine (probably, they are TOO fashionable for that), but many share the emerging sensibility that it is desirable to live in a tenament. For this to occur, the poverty of tenament culture has to be mythologized out of history. Small apartments on crowded streets must be nostalgized into " a better, simpler, life". The slum associations must be purged and I think the feeling conjured by the tenament museum is part of this mythologizing.

angvou said...

Another couple things on the mythologizing of the Lower East Side you mention: the restaurant "Tenement" (if its still in business) and that Blue Moon tenement Hotel, just up the street on Orchard from the museum.

The most "damning" of all, in a manner of speaking, is the museum's *antique store*.

Eireann said...

This is a great post--and good comments, too. Articulated some things about MS and about craft blogs/design blogs in general that I've been trying to formulate for a while.

zameander said...

"what does one do when one's formerly "personal" style, accrued over the years from here and there, is on wholesale offer at Pottery Barn? When anyone can buy all their 'vintage-inspired' needs at one fell swoop, what happens to the genuine collection? "
oh i feel this, i do, i do. but i fight it. you like what you like. your aesthetic is YOURS. a desire to throw it all out, or a sense that it is somehow now cheapened or "phony" is a vestigial/teenage knee-jerk reaction, akin to following an unknown band or artist for years, collecting their albums and t-shirts and posters and prints BECAUSE YOU LOVE THEM, and because they have touched you and made you feel something -- and then up and tossing everything once that band or artist is discovered and their music or images are used to sell BMWs or dishes at Target. this smacks of the idea of things not being 'cool' once the masses have been clued into their coolness. your home is lovely. your linen sack is your linen sack. the existence of their linen sack does not detract from the loveliness of yours.

angvou said...

Good analogy-- teenage reaction to "your band" selling out. Still I think that while I love my items and dont see tossing them any time soon, I do feel the Pottery Barn syndrome cuts into their "specialness" for me.

Perhaps the Mona Lisa can withstand countless cheap reproductions and retain intrinsic integrity. My grain sack is another story. Ha.

Anonymous said...

Fuck your wall-mounted letterpress drawer that displays tiny objects.



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