by Pamela Horn, Director of Cross-Platform Content
An Atlas of Es Devlin, published by Thames & Hudson, UK in collaboration with Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, is the first monograph on artist Es Devlin’s genre-defying practice. It is an experiential publication encompassing art, activism, theatre, poetry, music, dance, opera, and sculpture.
A unique, sculptural volume of over 900 pages includes foldouts, cut-outs, and a range of paper types, mirror, and translucencies, with over 700 color images documenting 120 projects spanning four decades, and a 50,000 word text featuring the artist’s personal commentaries on each art work, as well as, interviews with her collaborators including Hans Ulrich Obrist, Bono, Benedict Cumberbatch, Pharrell Williams, Carlo Rovelli, Brian Eno, Sam Mendes, Alice Rawsthorn, Neil Tennant, and Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye. Each book is boxed and includes a die-cut print from an edition of 5000.
Devlin’s work is rooted in a lifelong practice of reading and drawing. Sketches in the margins of texts—from poetry, drama, song lyrics, and opera libretti to climate reports and endangered species lists—emerge the technically advanced, collectively imagined universes for which she is globally renowned.
An Atlas of Es Devlin includes 250 full-color pages illustrating the sculptures, installation, and performance works and features 300 color reproductions of the fragile miniature paintings, sketches, paper cuts, and small mechanical cardboard models that form the seeds of some of her iconic compilations of music, poetry, art, and activism in recent times. These previously unseen small-scale works have been stored in Devlin’s archive for the past three decades and are interleaved with 130 pages of personal commentary texts composed by the artist.
They are presented within the format of a thirty-year artist’s sketchbook, on varying paper sizes and types, often in folded sequences or on translucent or paper-cut layers. These delicate works reveal the early ideas that developed into public sculptures and installations exploring biodiversity, linguistic diversity, and AI-generated poetry at Tate Modern, V&A, Serpentine, Imperial War Museum, Superblue Miami, Lincoln Center, as well as kinetic stage designs at the Royal Opera House, the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Ballet, La Scala, and the National Theatre. An Atlas of Es Devlin‘s graphic design and intricate construction design is by the artist’s cousin, Daniel Devlin.
The book also encompasses the sketches, paintings, and rotating cardboard sculptures that evolved into the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony, the 2022 NFL Super Bowl half-time show with Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar, as well as facsimiles of setlists overlaid with sketched diagrams of monumental illuminated stage sculptures for Beyoncé, U2, Rosalía, and The Weeknd.
The publication is a companion to Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition, opening 18 November 2023 in New York and curated by Andrea Lipps, Associate Curator of Contemporary Design and Head of the Digital Curatorial Department and Julie Pastor, Curatorial Assistant at Cooper Hewitt. For her first monographic museum exhibition, Devlin will install her 30-year archive across the third floor of the museum. An Atlas of Es Devlin, both the publication and exhibition chart the expansion of scale and intention in her practice, from teenage drawings and paintings, designs for theatre, opera, stadium concerts, and ceremonies to her current engagement with the cultural response to the climate and civilizational crises. Devlin’s work is at once deeply personal and inherently collective. She views the audience as a temporary society and encourages profound cognitive shifts by inviting public participation in communal choral works.
“It is impossible to pin Es Devlin to a singular title,” said Andrea Lipps. “She is polymathic. She is a storyteller, an artist, a designer, a director, a poet, a visionary, perhaps even a shaman, whose work razes through disciplinary boundaries. Her canvas is temporary space, her materials are as intangible as her work is ephemeral: breath, light, music, time, and anticipation. Her practice reveals a limitless curiosity. To be in her presence is to be transfixed with creative energy, poetry, and a proliferation of ideas.”
Ahead of the official publication date and sold-out preseale, a limited quantity of books will be available at SHOP Cooper Hewitt, in-store and online, beginning November 17. Don’t miss this chance to add this stunning monograph to your design library!