Cooper-Hewitt Continues on Path of Sustained Growth

Release Date: 
Monday, June 6, 2005
Press Release: 

Cooper-Hewitt Continues on Path of Sustained Growth

---Initiatives Include Active Roster of Exhibitions, Public Programs, Gallery Reorganization, and Creation of New Education Spaces---

The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum has recently completed the first year of implementation of a long-range strategic plan embracing every area of museum operations, including the collection, exhibitions, educational programming, research and scholarship, publications, facilities and the website. As the nation’s only museum dedicated exclusively to historic and contemporary design, Cooper-Hewitt is continuing to realize its strategic goals under the leadership of director Paul Warwick Thompson.

In 2004-2005, the museum celebrated the first full season of dynamic programs initiated under Thompson’s tenure, commencing with the “Shock of the Old: Christopher Dresser” exhibition, which was greeted with critical acclaim in New York and in London during its installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Since Thompson’s arrival in 2001, Cooper-Hewitt has embarked on a reinvigorated program to explore the impact of design across the 24 centuries represented in the museum’s far-reaching collection.

“Design occupies a unique position in today’s world, embracing aesthetics, commerce and technology. Cooper-Hewitt is committed to exploring this interplay and advancing public awareness of design, celebrating contemporary practice while incorporating a historical perspective,” said Thompson. “The museum’s role is to present design as an historic continuum and enrich our understanding of the present through the lens of the past.”

The Collection

Cooper-Hewitt’s collection is international in scope and contains 250,000 objects, from the Han Dynasty to the present. The collection’s holdings reflect cultural, social and economic factors that have influenced design, production and consumption. Exhibition programming serves to reveal and question the connections between these areas.

Under curatorial director Barbara Bloemink, the museum is pursuing an ambitious collections policy, with a rigorous set of acquisitions criteria, aimed at enhancing the quality, breadth, and coherence of the collection. Cooper-Hewitt prioritizes innovation in the design process as a key criterion in its acquisition policy, differentiating its collection from other museums of material culture. In the past year, the museum has acquired a number of significant works, including a well-preserved 19th century mosen (a mat used in Mongolian tea ceremonies), a selection of mid-20th century American wallcoverings, a 1910 poster by the innovative graphic designer Ludwig Hohlwein, a 1955 stool with cushions by Frank Lloyd Wright pupil E. Fay Jones and a Hoytether tension member used in space propulsion applications, currently on view in "Extreme Textiles.”

In order to increase public access to the collection, Cooper-Hewitt opened The Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery, 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 engages guest interpreters, including artists, journalists, authors and designers, to explore the collection and develop a personal thesis supported by a selection of collection objects. Currently on view in the Gallery are historic textile samplers selected by Dutch designer Hella Jongerius. Cooper-Hewitt also commissioned Jongerius to create 10 unique textile blankets, which will be added to the permanent collection following the close of “Hella Jongerius Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection.”

Inspired by designs found in the historic samplers in the museum’s permanent collection, Jongerius’ studio constructed unique sampler blankets on a newly-manufactured wool foundation. By combining traditional handwork, recycled materials and industrial techniques, the Sampler Blankets embody the museum’s mission to view the history of design through 21st century eyes.

In May 2005, the museum implemented a collection search tool feature on its website which, for the first time, enables visitors to browse through 500 objects, drawn from all four curatorial departments. The ‘soft-launch’ of this web tool facilitates access to the collection and enables Cooper-Hewitt to bring design to users across the nation and the world. The long-term goal is to offer access to 5,000 objects via the web.


Exhibition themes reflect the scope of the museum’s collection, from high-performance textiles used in extreme applications to the craftsmanship employed in 17th century flatware design. In 2004-2005, Cooper-Hewitt toured more exhibitions internationally and nationally than ever before in the museum’s history, including the travel of “Shock of the Old: Christopher Dresser” to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in the fall of 2004. The show was hailed as one of the eight best exhibitions of the year by Time Out London. Further, Cooper-Hewitt’s “Design ≠ Art: Functional Objects from Donald Judd to Rachel Whiteread” exhibition is currently on view at the Museum of Design in Atlanta, and will move next to the Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, Colo.

Upcoming Exhibition Highlights:

• “Excavating Design” will showcase in Cooper-Hewitt’s new Ground Floor Gallery a small selection from the museum’s expansive collection of 18th century European drawings and prints featuring images of antiquity.
• “Yinka Shonibare Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection” will highlight objects from the permanent collection that explore modes of transportation, selected by Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare.
• “Fashion in Colors” will examine color as a design element across four centuries of Western fashion.

• “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 U.S. from the Renaissance to the present day.
• “Traveling with Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and Landscape in America” will focus on how American artists were employed to promote tourism through the constructed pastoral landscape, and will feature the museum’s exceptional collection of 19th century paintings and drawings.
• “National Design Triennial” will be the third installment of the Triennial’s survey of the best in contemporary American design from coast-to-coast, curated by Cooper-Hewitt’s Barbara Bloemink, Matilda McQuaid and Ellen Lupton, along with curator Brooke Hodge of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
• “Rough Ideas: Design from Israel,” the first exhibition of contemporary Israeli design in the U.S., will present the work of a dozen Israeli designers who are exploring the sculptural, material, functional and conceptual possibilities of useful things.
• “Solos: Matali Crasset” will be the fourth in the series of “Solos” exhibitions. In her first U.S. show, French designer Crasset will explore and define areas of experimentation and mobility in design.

• "Piranesi as a Designer" examines the artist's role in the reform of architecture and design from the 18th century to the present.
• “Samplings: Works from the Permanent Collection,” curated by Matilda McQuaid and Lucy Commoner, will examine the historical and contemporary use of sample books and other sampling formats as tools for marketing or recording designs and techniques in many different media.

Master Planning
In continuing this ambitious exhibition program, Cooper-Hewitt is also acknowledging a need for expanded space to meet its growing programmatic goals. The historic Carnegie Mansion remains a remarkable place for showcasing design objects in a residential context, but the museum is exploring options to increase gallery and program space through a master planning process. In the coming year, the Smithsonian and Cooper-Hewitt will be refining physical plant options and working with the Carnegie Hill community and the Landmarks Commission to find a mutually acceptable solution for the museum’s expansion.

“We’ve known for some time that museum space is limited and we are privileged to have a dedicated group of trustees and community members helping to explore options and identify the ideal solution for Cooper-Hewitt,” said Thompson. “Our main priority is to ensure that we can continue to present our ambitious exhibitions and programs to an ever-growing audience.”

In fall 2005, the museum will open a new ground floor gallery created from recaptured administrative space. The 700 sq. ft. gallery will be used both for the “Solos” series and smaller exhibitions on historic themes. "Excavating Design," which focuses on master drawings from the Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design collection, will be the inaugural exhibition. The following spring, the museum will open the Target Design Education Center, which will provide enhanced space for an expanding roster of programs, including a library and resource center for teachers, a fully-wired lecture room, and a design studio for workshops and film screenings.

Education, Public Programming, Research and Scholarship

In working toward becoming a “museum without walls,” Cooper-Hewitt is transforming its website into a globally influential resource for design education. The website will feature innovative content created by some of the most talented practitioners in the field, and will facilitate communication between designers, students, educators, the press and the general public.

“As a new trustee, it's incredibly exciting for me to participate in the creative development of a new vision for museums in the online space,” said John Maeda of MIT Media Lab. “The virtual Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will not only serve as a forum for information on museum programs, exhibitions and design education, but will be able to center the future of design firmly in this new age of digital technology.”

A sampling of future capabilities is already present on the website, including interactive design games, created through collaboration with graduate students from the design and technology department at Parsons, and a collection search tool, which enables visitors to browse through objects from all four curatorial departments or view a selection of objects illustrating particular themes or exhibitions.

The Master’s Program in Decorative Arts and Design, run in partnership with the Parsons School of Design, lies at the heart of the curatorial departments and goes beyond connoisseurship to address issues of social, economic and cultural history. This unique program, led by director Sarah Lawrence, who also teaches on the Renaissance and the historiography and theory of decorative arts, offers object-oriented instruction by curators and adjunct faculty, teaching the next generation of decorative arts historians, curators, critics, educators and administrators. Concurrent with their academic training, students help to research and organize exhibitions, work closely with curators and teach in the classroom and galleries. The program continues to grow and enrollment has more than doubled since Dr. Lawrence’s appointment in 2001.

Further broadening its role in research and scholarship in the decorative arts, Cooper-Hewitt recently launched National Design Journal, a semi-annual publication featuring articles on new developments in the field of design. The Journal reports on new scholarship in the decorative arts, current exhibitions, and upcoming programs offered by the museum, and also contains commentary written by leaders in design, such as Aaron Betsky, William McDonough and Milton Glaser.

In addition to these initiatives, Cooper-Hewitt continues to serve as a catalyst for design education nationally and internationally with a dynamic roster of programs, including Design Directions, a series of free workshops and studios for New York City high school students; A City of Neighborhoods: Civic Engagement Through Design, a three-day intensive where educators learn how to use architecture and historic resources to explore a community’s past, analyze its present and plan for its future; and Summer Design Institute, a week-long series for educators and designers to share strategies on enhancing the K-12 curricula with design. This year, for the first time, a dedicated web sitelet will be created for Summer Design Institute delegates, offering access to program content following the series, such as speakers’ papers and proceedings, and fostering year-long dialogue on design education with other participants.

Leading these exciting new initiatives, Caroline Payson has joined the museum as its new education director. Payson has an impressive background in arts education, and was formerly director of educational services at Maryland Public Television, where she oversaw a $10 million grant to create “Thinkport,” an online, interactive education super-site for the state of Maryland. She has also led a number of education initiatives using interactive and web-based resources to improve reading instruction, distance learning courses and school curricula. Payson, a former chair of the liberal studies department of Parsons School of Design, holds a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins’ prestigious Writing Seminars program and a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College.

The museum represents a pioneering force in design research and scholarship, exemplified in the efforts of the curatorial departments this year. “Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance,” currently on view, is the culmination of 15 years of research by curator Matilda McQuaid, and is the first exhibition to examine the extraordinary innovations occurring in "technical textiles" in the fields of architecture, apparel, medicine, transportation, aerospace and the environment.

The National Design Awards

The National Design Awards program, now in its sixth 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.

Reflecting the ever-growing scope of design, the Awards program has expanded this year to include three new categories---Landscape Design, Interior Design and Design Mind---for a total of ten awards, including Lifetime Achievement, Corporate Achievement, Architecture, Communications, Product, Fashion and Design Patron.

The 2005 National Design Awards winners were selected by a panel of nine distinguished jurors, including: Ron Arad, Andrea Cochran, Li Edelkoort, David Rockwell, Jeff Speck, Frank Stephenson, Nadja Swarovski, Michael Vanderbyl and Michael Volkema.

The Design Award winners will be announced and the Achievement Award recipients honored at the Oct. 20 gala, which will be held at Cooper-Hewitt's landmark headquarters on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award will be bestowed upon legendary designer Eva Zeisel. The Corporate Achievement Award will be presented to Patagonia, a sports apparel company committed to design, innovation, quality and performance, as well as environmental and social causes.

Museum Leadership

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 Elizabeth Ainslie, Michael Francis, John Maeda and Kurt Andersen. Ainslie is owner of Elizabeth Ainslie Interiors, and studied design at El Centro College in Dallas. Andersen, a published author and host of the radio program “Studio 360,” comes from a background in journalism and served as editor-in-chief of New York magazine and Spy. Francis is the executive vice president of marketing for Target and oversees all marketing operations for the company. National Design Award winner Maeda recently received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art, holds the E. Rudge and Nancy Allen professorship of media arts and sciences at his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is the author of the definitive text “Maeda@ Media” (2000). These individuals add new perspectives and vision at a leadership level.