Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “Piranesi as Designer”
In fall 2007, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present “Piranesi as Designer,” the first museum exhibition to show Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s full range and influence as a designer of architecture, interiors and furnishings. Through more than 100 etchings, original drawings and decorative arts objects, the exhibition will examine Piranesi’s concept of modern design and demonstrate his ongoing influence on architects and designers today, with featured work by Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Daniel Libeskind, Robert A.M. Stern, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Organized by professor Sarah E. Lawrence, director of Cooper-Hewitt’s Master’s Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design, and John Wilton-Ely, professor emeritus at the University of Hull in England, the exhibition will be on view in the first-floor galleries of the museum from Sept. 14 through Jan. 20, 2008. “Piranesi as Designer” is mounted in association with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands.
Renowned as one of the finest printmakers of the 18th century, Piranesi (Italian, 1720-1778) is best known for his etched views of Rome and its antiquities, as well as for his highly influential suite “The Carcieri” or “Imaginary Prisons.” Trained as an architect, Piranesi revolutionized architecture and design through his combination of decorative elements and ornamental motifs from the Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman styles; yet his work as the designer of interiors and furnishings has been largely uncelebrated. This exhibition will explore the far-reaching impact of Piranesi’s modernist style on his 18th-century contemporaries, such as Robert Adam, François-Joseph Bélanger and Etienne- Louis Boullée, as well as on leading architects today.
“This landmark exhibition provides a major reassessment of Piranesi as a radical design reformer and offers an unprecedented display of the vast range of his creative work,” said Director Paul Warwick Thompson.
Beginning with Piranesi’s formative years in Venice, the exhibition will trace his work as a designer in various media through his final years in Rome. On view in the first and second galleries will be Piranesi’s topographic studies of ancient Rome, architectural fantasies, archaeological investigations and drawings of significant architectural commissions that allowed Piranesi to give form to his new modes of expression. From preliminary sketches to highly finished pieces, the works reveal Piranesi’s creative process and unique design philosophy.
The central gallery of the exhibition will bring together Piranesi’s vast work as a designer of interiors, mantles, carriage works, chimney pieces and furnishings, including commodes, tables, chairs, candle stands, mirrors, sconces, vases, urns, teapots and coffee pots. A number of decorative objects designed by Piranesi will debut in the United States in this exhibition, including the 1828 Doncaster Race Cup, after Piranesi’s design; a clock by Thomas Hope; and two works from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: the Rezzonico gilt side table, one of his only surviving pieces of furniture, and a marble chimneypiece, commissioned by collector John Hope.
A highlight of the exhibition will be a group of Piranesi’s drawings and prints of designs for architecture and the decorative arts from Cooper-Hewitt’s permanent collection; the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University (New York); and the Morgan Library and Museum (New York), which will be shown together for the first time with corresponding 3-D objects produced after his designs.
The final gallery of the exhibition will demonstrate how Piranesi’s striking modernist design theory and practice still resonates with architects and designers centuries later. Piranesi’s “Imaginary Prisons” suite, in which the viewer’s eye is forced on a restless journey through a series of spatial ambiguities and visual paradoxes, will be juxtaposed with drawings by architects who utilize similar complex visual devices to stimulate the interest and imagination of the viewer, such as Eisenman’s Cardinals Stadium in Arizona and Libeskind’s “Micromega” series. Examples of Piranesi’s pioneering blend of architectural elements will be presented alongside drawings by contemporary architects who also mix and borrow ornamentation from various schools, such as Graves’ Design for the Public Library in Denver and Venturi and Scott Brown’s Design for the Chapel, Episcopal Academy in Pennsylvania. Further, the exhibition will feature videos with these architects, in which they discuss how their work and aesthetic continue to foster the design ideals put forth by the 18th-century Italian designer.
Cooper-Hewitt will publish a 200-page, full-color catalog with essays by exhibition organizers Lawrence and Wilton-Ely, in addition to contributions from leading Piranesi scholars and contemporary architects.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a variety of programs, including a symposium on Sept. 29th, which will build on the exhibition’s themes.
Following its debut at Cooper-Hewitt, “Piranesi as Designer” will travel to the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands, from Feb. 9, 2008 thru May 18, 2008.
“Piranesi as Designer” is sponsored by Eli Wilner & Company.
The exhibition is made possible in part by The Polonsky Foundation, Connie and Harvey Krueger, the Arthur Ross Foundation, Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown, The Italian Cultural Institute, and Mr. and Mrs. Frederic A. Sharf. Additional support is provided by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund, The Felicia Fund, and The Cowles Charitable Trust. Media assistance is provided by Apollo magazine.
About the Museum
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 the Smithsonian since 1967.
Cooper-Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Mondays 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 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, $15; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $10. Cooper-Hewitt members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call (212) 849-8400 or visit http://www.cooperhewitt.org. The museum is fully accessible.
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