The show includes new participatory sculptures and interactive paintings.
The works in Housewife engage the public through temptation, humor and physical suggestion. The traditional viewer/artwork relationship is reconfigured to place the viewer and object in positions of equal power. Interaction is Rubell’s core medium, which she uses to explore a tricky question of female self-definition: the role of others in feminine identity. The second-wave feminism of Rubell’s formative years instilled in the artist the courage to define herself however she pleased, with one glaring exception. “I always had all the skills of a housewife,” says Rubell, “I thought about other people almost all the time, I liked home life, I loved to cook, and yet there was absolutely no chance in hell I would ever consider the idea of being a housewife. That was my rational perspective, and I’m happy I had it, but emotionally, the feminine fantasies, despite their political incorrectness, endured. Today, I have kids, I run a household, but this show is about exploring places I could never bear to go: longing for someone to call me up for a date, getting married, vacuuming in high heels for my husband’s pleasure.”
The interactive nature of the work allows Rubell to simultaneously explore these fantasies herself and give viewers the possibility of occupying their own roles in them. In “Threshold,” viewers stand in for a groom carrying his bride through a doorway. In “Pedestal,” viewers play the role of that sexy vacuuming housewife, stepping up onto a pristine white pedestal, slipping on red patent-leather heels and taking hold of a late-model Dyson. In a series of what Rubell calls “Partition Paintings,” the artist’s actual phone number is scrawled onto prefabricated bathroom partitions using a stick of oil paint, the closest the art world gets to manufacturing lipstick.
Also in the show is a work exploring the complicated relationship between feminism and femininity in the public figure most directly affected by this duality: Hillary Rodham Clinton. The piece centers around two moments. First, when Clinton made her famous 1992 statement, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” And second, the moment right after that, in which Hillary Clinton, responding to massive public backlash, decides to submit her oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe for a Family Circle prospective First Lady bake-off invented for the occasion. “Vessel” is a five-foot tall cookie jar in the form of Clinton’s bright orange pantsuit, poised to walk off a pedestal. It is filled with cookies baked from Clinton’s 1992 recipe. It looks ceramic, but is actually a prop.