Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “Yinka Shonibare Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection”
In fall 2005, Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare will guest-curate an exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt focusing on modes of transportation as exemplified by objects from the museum’s permanent collection. “Yinka Shonibare Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection,” on view Oct. 7 through May 7, 2006, is the fourth in a series of themed exhibitions in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery.
After searching through thousands of objects, including those collected by Amy, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt during their world travels, Shonibare has chosen pieces that relate to forms of motion and travel from the Product Design and Decorative Arts, Wallcoverings, and Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design curatorial departments, and the Library. Exhibition highlights include bird cages, the Hewitt sisters’ travel diaries, and images of cars, trains, boats, shoes, hot air balloons and carriages decorating everything from wallcoverings to matchsafes. Through these works, dating from the 18th to the 20th century, Shonibare explores transportation as both a means of economic advancement and as a leisure activity. “Transportation is a fantasy-fulfillment activity,” says Shonibare, adding that, fundamentally, “travel is something people do to improve themselves.” While viewing the exhibition, Shonibare hopes that museum visitors will reflect on their own personal histories and the travel journeys of their ancestors.
Shonibare will also create site-specific, three-dimensional figures of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt in late Victorian-style clothing, fashioned from his signature contemporary pseudo-African batik textiles. This provocative and playful juxtaposition of style and fabric reinforces Shonibare’s personal thesis on the nature of cultural dissemination, disjuncture, travel and trade. The figures of the Hewitt sisters will be placed on stilts, symbolizing, as Shonibare notes, their “superiority over their contemporaries in terms of their taste and adventurous spirit.”
The history of the museum and its collections are of particular interest to Shonibare, as its origins are intertwined with the lives of some of the most preeminent members of late 19th- and early 20th-century New York society. Founded in 1897 by the three Hewitt sisters—granddaughters of the industrialist Peter Cooper—the museum collection has been significantly enriched by the Hewitt’s gifts. The museum is housed in the historic Fifth Avenue home of Andrew Carnegie, another pillar of early 20th century American society.
“Shonibare is the perfect guest interpreter of Cooper-Hewitt’s permanent collection,” says curatorial director Barbara Bloemink. “His extensive exploration and research into the museum’s holdings and history will result in a visually and conceptually exciting exhibition reflecting the museum’s mission of introducing both historic design and contemporary interpretation to new and diverse audiences.”
A self-described “postcolonial hybrid,” Shonibare is particularly attuned to the influence of colonization, and has investigated this theme throughout his career. Born in London, raised in Nigeria, and now living again in the United Kingdom, Shonibare often explores the historical integration of disparate cultures in his sculpture, photography and, most recently, in film. Through his ironic and highly imaginative juxtapositions, Shonibare examines cultural stereotypes of class, race, gender and identity. A finalist for the 2004 Turner Prize for his exhibition “Double Dutch” at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and his solo show at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, Shonibare is an artist of international stature and significance.
“Yinka Shonibare Selects” is the fourth in a series of small one-gallery exhibitions in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery featuring selections from the museum’s permanent collection of over 250,000 objects, international in scope and spanning 24 centuries. Guest interpreters, including artists, journalists, authors and designers, are invited to explore the collection and develop themed exhibitions using a selection of collection objects. Previous guest curators have included Cooper-Hewitt director Paul Warwick Thompson, novelist, design critic and public radio host Kurt Andersen, and innovative Dutch designer Hella Jongerius.
In conjunction with the exhibition, a panel discussion will be offered at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11. This three-part discussion will delve into travel for pleasure and purpose, touching on the Hewitt sisters’ European Grand Tours (the origins of the museum’s collection), the social and political issues of economic migration to the United States, and the resulting dialogues about transportation that have emerged in the art and design community. Panelists will include Barbara Bloemink, curatorial director of Cooper-Hewitt, Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Yinka Shonibare. An exhibition viewing and reception will follow.
“Yinka Shonibare Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection” is made possible by the Peter Norton Family Foundation, Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz, and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency. Additional support for interpretive materials was provided by the Getty Foundation.
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution 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 Smithsonian since 1967.
As the design authority of the United States, Cooper-Hewitt programs and exhibitions demonstrate how design shapes culture and history–-past, present and future. The museum presents design along an historic continuum, balancing contemporary with historic concerns, viewing historic periods through 21st century eyes and pinpointing themes of enduring interest to design across all centuries. Holdings encompass one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence, tracing the history of design through more than 250,000 objects spanning 23 centuries, from the Han Dynasty (200 B.C.) to the present day. The museum’s collections are organized in four curatorial departments, Product Design and Decorative Arts; Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design; Textiles; and Wallcoverings.
The museum also has an active roster education and public programs, which reflect the range of exhibition programming, from object study programs, to scholarly symposia and programs featuring National Design Awards recipients. Many programs focus on ‘teaching teachers’, to continue to help train professionals for the field. Together, these programs help Cooper-Hewitt engage larger, more diverse audiences, fulfilling the mission of the Hewitt sisters to serve as a catalyst for design education nationally and internationally.
Cooper-Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours: 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. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. 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) 849-8300 or visit http://www.cooperhewitt.org. The museum is fully accessible.
# # #