Campana Brothers Select: Works from the Permanent Collection

Release Date: 
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “Campana Brothers Select: Works from the Permanent Collection”

In winter 2008, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present the exhibition “Campana Brothers Select: Works from the Permanent Collection.” As guest curators in the “Selects” exhibition series devoted to rotations of works from Cooper-Hewitt’s permanent collection, the Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana mine the museum’s collection for works that blend unexpected media, layer varied forms and weave intricate patterns and lines. The exploration of interwoven materials and ideas is the binding thread of the Campanas’ work, and the exhibition will include a new piece designed by the brothers specifically for the museum’s permanent collection. “Campana Brothers Select” will be on view from Feb. 15 through Sept. 28, 2008 in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery.

“The Campanas are two of the world’s most inventive and talented designers. Their unique design ‘eye’ casts new light on Cooper-Hewitt’s vast collection and has created an exhibition that is as evocative and unpredictable as their own designs,” said museum director Paul Warwick Thompson. “In turn, the museum has commissioned the Campanas to create a new work specifically for the permanent collection, in the same manner as the 2005 commission of guest curator Hella Jongerius.”

After numerous visits to the museum’s storage vaults, the Campana brothers chose more than 30 objects, dating from the 16th to 20th centuries, from all four collection departments and the National Design Library. They selected a diverse group of works, including book illustrations, jewelry, chairs, textiles, bowls and wallpaper designs based on the object’s ability to elicit an emotional response from viewers.

“Our goal is to create a bridge between design and poetry, design and hidden desires of well being and the fantasies of daily life. All of the items we selected share a certain dreamy state of mind, a touch of humor and an intrinsic relation with the materials,” said Fernando Campana.

Visitors are invited to explore the exhibition’s underlying theme of “manufacturing emotions” and appreciate the visceral quality of the works on view, which demonstrate the ability of objects to trigger feelings, sentiments and memories.

The objects will be installed to encourage visitors to discover the connections between them and nature. “Like witnessing a growing process, the exhibition will start with two-dimensional surfaces, take on a third dimension with the embroidery works and then evolve to objects that suddenly emerge to express a variety of scales and textures,” Fernando Campana added.

Highlights of the exhibition include the following:
• Robert John Thornton’s “Cupid” illustration from the book “The Temple of Flora.” For the Campana brothers, the “Cupid” illustration symbolizes the purity, passion and love that are an intrinsic part of their creative process.
• Walter Crane’s illustration in the book “A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden,” expresses the power of nature, as a human figure is morphed into floral forms. Believing everything they create is rooted in nature, the Campanas were drawn to the illustration for its idea of man existing as an extension of nature.
• A 17th-century French book cover with raised embroidery, silk, metal wire, metal strips and coral beads, shows the ability of embroiders to achieve dramatic sculptural effects using a material as simple as thread. The book cover relates to the brothers’ manipulation of common materials to create unexpected designs.
• An 1830 English dyed horsehair necklace, based on the European practice of creating sentimental or remembrance jewelry from human hair, appealed to the brothers. By interlacing and twisting, a banal material is transformed into a precious piece of jewelry.
• A late 19th-century Longhorn armchair, attributed to Wenzel Friedrich, that utilizes horn―a rigid, seemingly non-moldable material―to form a curvaceous chair and highlights the manipulation of material to create a wholly new design.

The exhibition also will feature a new commission by the Campana brothers for Cooper-Hewitt, which completes their “TransPlastic” series. The series documents the battle between nature and plastic and starts with a café chair, which mixes the warmth and elasticity of wicker and the slick rigid surface of plastic; grows into islands of café chairs; moves on to plastic globe meteors and cloud lights; and ends with an explosion of plastic and rubber objects being expelled from the woven chair in its last stage before it becomes natural. This final work in the series will be on view for the first time in the exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated brochure.

“Campana Brothers Select: Works from the Permanent Collection” is sponsored in part by H.Stern Jewelers.
Media support is provided by Elle.
Additional support is provided by Craig Robins and Ambra Medda.

About the Campana Brothers
The talented duo—one trained as a lawyer, the other as an architect—has collaborated since 1983, designing objects that defy traditional Western categorization. Their practice represents a low-tech, hand-crafted approach to design, exploring materials that are readily available or sustainable.

Gaining notoriety in the 1990s by using materials typically disregarded, including bubble wrap, cardboard sheets, cotton ropes and stuffed animals, the studio is now an investigative laboratory that explores new ways of designing, where the material dictates the direction to be followed. The Campanas possess an extraordinary ability to transform modest materials into objects of beauty through simple solutions.

The brothers have worked with some of the most renowned design companies in the world, such as Alessi, Cappellini Progetto Oggetto, Edra, Fontana Arte, H. Stern Jewelers, O Luce, Swarovski and Venini. In 2002, the Campanas began to craft limited editions and special pieces, which are represented by international galleries, including Albion in London and Moss in New York. The Campana brothers’ work has been shown at numerous museums, including the Vitra Design Museum (Weil am Rhein, Germany); The Victoria and Albert Museum (London); and The Museum of Modern Art (New York).

About the “Selects” Series
“Campana Brothers Select” is the seventh exhibition in a series of small one-gallery exhibitions in the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery. The museum invites guest curators from all around the world, including artists, journalists, authors and designers, to create exhibitions and installations interpreted in their own voice from works in the museum’s permanent collection.

Previous guest curators include novelist, design critic and public radio host Kurt Andersen; Dutch designer Hella Jongerius; Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare; and the innovation and design firm IDEO.

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 and Smithsonian members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call (212) 849-8300 or visit The museum is fully accessible.
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