Cooper-Hewitt Announces Five-Year Plan to Advance Museum and its Public Service Mission
Comprehensive Plan Includes Dynamic Exhibition Program, Renewed Commitment to Education, Active Roster of Public Programs, and Gallery Reorganization
The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to historic and contemporary design. In maintaining its leadership role in the design community, Cooper-Hewitt is implementing a new strategic vision that embraces every area of museum operations, including the collection, exhibitions, education programming and the web, research and scholarship, publications, facilities, the Board of Trustees and staff.
“The institution’s newly articulated mission, ‘to advance the public understanding of design across 23 centuries,’ is one that strongly re-connects us to the founding vision of the Hewitt sisters,” said Cooper-Hewitt director Paul Warwick Thompson. “Our role is to present design as an historic continuum, to interpret the convergence of past and present – which is not a change in mission but rather a re-orientation in how the mission is being realized. The museum balances contemporary with historic concerns, viewing historic periods through 21st century eyes and pinpointing themes of enduring interest to design across all centuries.”
Cooper-Hewitt’s collection is international in scope and showcases 23 centuries of design seen through 250,000 objects, from the Han Dynasty to the present day. The collection’s holdings reflect cultural, social and economic factors that have influenced design, production and consumption, which presented within a broad historic framework in order to reveal the connections between these areas.
Under the direction of curatorial director Barbara Bloemink, the museum is developing a reinvigorated collections policy with new direction and focus. Cooper-Hewitt will prioritize innovation in the design process as a key criterion in its acquisition policy, differentiating its collection from other museums of material culture. For example, the recent acquisition of a design drawing of Cupid and Psyche by Hippolyte Le Bas, “The Merchant of Love,” for a Toile de Jouy printed textile from 1817-1818, represents one of the very earliest uses of neo-classical motifs in printed textile. Similarly, “Zed” a 3-dimensional wallpaper by avant-garde Czech designer Borek Sipek, produced in 1992, presents a radical conception of wallpaper as a tactile, changeable surface pattern. Growing the collection, especially in key areas, such as 17th – 20th century Western furniture and 20th century product design, underscores Cooper-Hewitt’s focus on the innovative not just the representative, and maintains an unbroken survey of design across the ages.
In order to increase public access to the collection, Cooper-Hewitt opened its first gallery dedicated solely to the display of the permanent collection in fall 2003. In addition to displays conceived by curatorial staff, the museum is engaging unexpected eyes to curate collection installations – currently on view is Kurt Andersen’s “Faster, Cheaper, Newer, More: Revolutions of 1848,” to be followed by selections by Dutch designer Hella Jongerius and Nigerian-English artist Yinka Shonibare.
Exhibitions reflect the scope of the museum’s collection and mission, from Christopher Dresser to Josef Albers, from high-performance textiles used in extreme applications, to the craftsmanship employed in 17th century flatware design.
Upcoming Exhibition Highlights:
• “Design ≠ Art: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread,” will explore virtually unknown design works by 18 Minimalist and post-Minimalist artists.
• “Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living” will present the Alberses shared design vision and philosophy that everyday life is enriched by design.
• “Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance” will expose visitors to technical, high performance textiles and their diverse applications from architecture, to space suits, to a Formula One race car.
• “The Nancy and Edwin Marks Collection Gallery: Yinka Shonibare” will highlight objects from the collection that explore cultural appropriation in 19th century colonization.
• “Solos: Tord Boontje” will continue the “Solos” contemporary design series focusing on the work of the experimental Dutch designer.
• “Feeding Desire: Designing the Tools of the Table” will explore the physical forms, rituals of use, and social meanings of eating utensils through the museum’s extraordinary permanent collection of cutlery produced in Europe and the US from the Renaissance to the present day.
• “Designing an American Identity: Landscapes by Homer, Church and Moran” will focus on how American artists were employed to “brand” the national identity after the Civil War, and will feature the museum’s exceptional collection of works on paper by Homer, Church, and Moran.
• “National Design Triennial” will be the third installment of the Triennial survey of contemporary American design from coast-to-coast.
• “Solos: Matali Crasset” will be the fourth in the series of “Solos” exhibitions. French designer Crasset will explore and define areas of experimentation and mobility in design.
• “Rococo – The Continuing Curve,” presents Rococo from its 18th century French roots to the stylistic revivals of the 19th and 20th centuries, including contemporary design work by Cindy Sherman and Vivienne Westwood.
In building this ambitious exhibition program, Cooper-Hewitt is also acknowledging the domestic scale and architecture of the Carnegie Mansion. The Mansion is not just the site of the museum – it is a remarkable space for showcasing the collection and temporary exhibitions, and is a building of design significance in its own right. To that end, the museum is steadily removing accretions from the 1980s and 1990s that were designed to neutralize the space. “We don’t want to mask the beauty of the space, instead we want to reveal its splendor and have it serve as a foil, a backdrop, or as context to the designed objects which we present within this intimate environment,” said Thompson. “I believe in letting the mansion breathe and shine, as a design peculiar to its age within the history of this city.” Already, the installation of the Dresser exhibition demonstrates how installations can be integrated into and benefit from the setting of the 1901 Babb, Cook and Willard Mansion. In fall 2004, the “Design ≠ Art” exhibition will consciously place functional objects designed by Judd and Whiteread within the original Carnegie bedrooms. Rather than seek to create an unmediated experience of art, Cooper-Hewitt will celebrate design in context, specifically, design within a residential scale where historic and contemporary objects co-exist.
In spring 2004, the museum embarked on a design feasibility study of its physical space with the goal of restoring the Mansion and enhancing exhibition and visitor facilities. This feasibility study includes a needs assessment to ensure that Cooper-Hewitt has the right spaces and configuration of spaces to meet its programmatic vision. In fall 2005 the museum will open a revitalized lecture room and new ground floor gallery created from recaptured administrative space. This new gallery will be used both for the “Solos” series and smaller exhibitions on historic themes. The museum’s Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden, the largest private garden in New York City, will increasingly be used as an outdoor ‘laboratory’ for contemporary design, technology, or architecture during the summer months.
Education and Public Programming / Research and Scholarship
Education and public programs reflect Cooper-Hewitt’s range of exhibition programming, from object study programs, to scholarly symposia and programs featuring National Design Awards recipients. The National Design Awards program, now in its fifth year, continues to celebrate design in various disciplines as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world, and seeks to increase national awareness of design by educating the public and promoting excellence, innovation and lasting achievement. The awards affirm the museum’s standing as the design authority of the United States, connecting industry, design and the general public.
The master’s program in decorative arts and design, in partnership with the Parsons School of Design, is intrinsically connected to the curatorial departments. This unique program offers object-based teaching by curators and adjunct faculty, training the next generation of decorative arts historians, curators, educators and administrators. Together, all of these programs help the museum to engage larger, more diverse audiences, fulfilling the mission of the Hewitt sisters to serve as a catalyst for design education nationally and internationally.
Increasingly, education programs will focus on national horizons - teaching teachers to effect design-based thinking in the K through 12 curricula nationally. In order to extend physical boundaries, Cooper-Hewitt is expanding its web presence, working towards a museum without walls and a website that will become a globally influential online resource for design education. The website will feature innovative content created by some of the most talented practitioners in the field, together with student work. The museum is also establishing a radical new category of education membership with national design schools. With a network of educational partners across the United States, Cooper-Hewitt will create a dynamic new means of reaching regional audiences.
To complement the experience and leadership of Cooper-Hewitt’s board, led by Chairman Dinny Morse and President Paul Herzan, the museum has added board members Murray Moss, Alice Gottesman, Abbi Rose, Reed Krakoff, Ruth Ann Stewart, Esme Usdan and Michael Maharam. These individuals add new voices and visions at a leadership level.
At staff level, Cooper-Hewitt is investing in its strengths, retaining and promoting key curatorial staff such as Gail Davidson, who was recently promoted to head of the Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design department after 17 years with the museum. Ellen Lupton, curator of contemporary design, remains central to the curatorial vision, co-curating “Feeding Desire: Designing the Tools of the Table” in 2006, and continuing to serve as one of the four curators of the ongoing “Triennial.”
New eyes and fresh minds have also been brought into the curatorial department: curatorial director Barbara Bloemink joined the museum in 2002 from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Matilda McQuaid joined in 2001 from the Museum of Modern Art to become head of the Textiles department and exhibition curator; and Sarah Coffin was recently appointed curator of 17th and 18th century design - a position created in 2004 to address the museum’s significant pre-1800’s holdings. Coffin joins the museum from Sotheby’s and Malcolm Franklin Inc.
In the field of education, Dorothy Dunn, who served the Museum for the past 15 years, was promoted in 2003 to director of education. In 2002, Sarah Lawrence was appointed director of the master’s program in decorative arts, and comes from Columbia University and the Jewish Museum. Cooper-Hewitt now has the requisite skill sets and expertise to lead the programmatic vision into the future.
About the Museum
The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications. Founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt–granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper–as part of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum has been a branch of the Smithsonian since 1967.
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is housed in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 91st Street in New York City. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5, and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. The museum is open Tuesdays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. General admission, $10; senior citizens and students over age 12, $7. Cooper-Hewitt members and children under age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call 212.849.8400 or visit www.cooperhewitt.org. The museum is fully accessible.