Andrea Lipps (she, her, hers) is Associate Curator of Contemporary Design and Head of the Digital Curatorial Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She has conceived, developed, and organized major award-winning exhibitions and books including Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial (2019), The Senses: Design Beyond Vision (2018), Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age (2017), and Beauty—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial (2016). Additionally, Lipps has developed and heads the museum’s nascent Digital Design collection, which includes the landmark acquisition of a live website, a first for the Smithsonian.
What do you want visitors to experience or learn while they engage with Devlin’s work?
An Atlas of Es Devlin is a journey through an artist’s creative practice. Stepping into the exhibition, audiences will directly enter into one of Es’ works. She conceived the exhibition design and experience of the show as an installation itself. The galleries are transformed into a replica of Es’ London-based studio; audiences will encounter an analog installation of the early student work we unboxed in her archive; and dynamic, projection-mapped models animate the thematic exploration of her projects. In it, Es’ mastery of space to drive narratives becomes apparent.
How did the exhibition come to fruition?
Es and I met in New York in 2018 in front of her installation, The Egg. It was a 20-foot, elliptical model city of New York that she’d created to contextualize Bjarke Ingels’s design for a new pair of residential towers near the High Line. We stood watching the model city come alive with projection mapping and began a conversation about her process. Our conversation progressed through drawing as a part of her practice. After I pitched an exhibition to her, that dialogue has continued for over five years. I’ve traveled to London countless times and seen many of Es’ works. We held countless Zooms in the early lockdowns, reflecting on contemporary practice and interviewing Es with her colleagues. We unboxed treasures in her archive in Sevenoaks outside of London. All of these conversations and efforts have culminated in the exhibition and have folded into the book.
What do you consider a highlight or seminal moment from working on An Atlas of Es Devlin?
Es and I had many working sessions in her London studio over the years in preparation for the exhibition, but traveling to her archive with curatorial assistant Julie Pastor and conservator Jessica Walthew was by far the highlight. Es’ archive is located on the outskirts of London, in rural Sevenoaks, and each morning we took a train and a taxi to get to the warehouse. We had planned to spend a few days and had to stay for two weeks owing to the volume of material the archive contained. We were transfixed by the explosion of creativity we found in the archive from Es’ youngest age. Towering stacks of archival boxes contained thousands of drawings, sketches, and relics from past projects. Bins filled with models and model figures stacked above our heads. For curators, the archive contains a treasure trove of stories and objects touched by the artist. We couldn’t wait to bring this material to the public to shed light on Es’ inimitable creativity, drive, and prolific talent.
Earlier this year Cooper Hewitt announced the formal establishment of the Digital curatorial department and you as founding head. What DOes this mean for the museum’s collection?
Digital work challenges us to rethink museum practices around collecting, stewardship and display. We are developing new and exciting methods of preservation and presentation while envisioning ways to provide greater public access to this collection. I’m thrilled the museum has formalized the Digital department, positioning us to effectively and responsibly collect born-digital work.