The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is an amazing museum dedicated to design and decorative art, and its current exhibitions are inspiring and exciting. Recently reopened after a lengthy renovation, the museum is housed in a landmark mansion by Andrew Carnegie in New York City. Visiting this museum was always a great experience but the new incarnation is a revelation: the renovated space expertly fuses the period interiors with its contemporary installations. And the museum has introduced some very interesting features that make it all very interactive and immersive, as well as making it possible to appreciate the history of its archives and how pieces from different categories relate to one another.
The museum’s heart is its archives: it houses thousands of rare books, textiles and wallcoverings, lighting, drawings, ceramics, metalwork and furniture. In addition to the Design Triennial exhibit, they are also currently showing “Making Design” which showcases selections from the museum’s collections. This exhibit is organized in five sections that they label as the key elements of design: line, form, texture, pattern and color. The show is full of textile related objects which of course I loved: original artwork for fabric designs, wallpaper samples, swatch books and more. Some of my favorite shows have been at the Cooper Hewitt and have had a lasting impact on me: Sonia Delaunay in 2011, Josef and Anni Albers in 2004, and Alexander Girard in 2000.
Four drawings for a textile design by Maria Likarz-Strauss for Wiener Werkstatte, 1924.
The museum has digitized most if not all of its collections. Now when you visit the museum you are given an “interactive pen” which allows you to collect information on any object in the show that catches your interest. By pressing the pen on the display placard of an object, you collect photographs of it as well as all the background information, the artist, etc. All of this information is stored on an individual code that you receive which you can later access from the museum’s website. You then have a little archive of your visit and everything that you found interesting at the show as a reference. But even more impressive is that when you view an item in your digital “collection”, the description highlights related pieces from the museum’s vast collection selected by the curators. So if you have a picture of an Art Deco wallpaper that you saw and liked, you then have a link to other Art Deco pieces from the museum’s collections such as a radio or a desk from that period.
I was so impressed by the museum and was glad to see that it is retaining its relevancy and still inspiring design lovers. Below are some of my favorite pieces, with an emphasis on the textile patterns. The museum’s website also catalogs objects from the exhibitions and their archives (http://www.cooperhewitt.org/) – it is a great resource!
Wallpaper by Josef Hillerbrand, 1925-30.
Wallpaper “Chopped Herringbone” by Alan Buchsbaum, 1971 for Norton Blumenthal, Inc.
Painting for textile design by Sonia Delaunay, 1930
“Spiral” textile by Barbara Brown for Heal Fabrics, 1969
“Prayer Wall” Textile by Sheila Hicks, 2012
French wallpaper, 1780-85
Collage for textile design “Arabesque” by Alexander Girard, 1954
“Cubearc” paper sculpture by Tauba Auerbach, 2011
“Clock Prototype, A Million Times” by Humans Since 1982, Per Emanuelsson and Bastian Bischoff, 2013
“Stamp World Map” wall mural by Paul Smith for Maharam, 2011