“Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection” on view March 16 through sept. 2, 2024

This March, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will present “Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection,” an exhibition highlighting how the museum acquires new work to shape the collection to better reflect current issues and design’s evolving role in daily interactions. Presented on the second-floor galleries, the exhibition will feature more than 150 works, including objects that represent the museum’s collecting legacy, as well as works brought into the collection since 2017 that demonstrate what it means to be a design museum today.

“What design meant in the late 19th century when Cooper Hewitt’s collection was started is not what design means now. That’s why our collection continues to grow and change as new works and ideas that better define our times are added to it,” said Maria Nicanor, director of the museum.  “The entirety of the collection, with both historic and new acquisitions interwoven together, allows Cooper Hewitt to tell more nuanced stories about who we are. Sometimes those stories will embrace the past and sometimes they will confront it to help inform our possible futures.”

Built over the course of more than 125 years, the national design collection has over 215,000 works that represent the evolution of people’s relationship with the world around them. The museum’s founders, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, established the collection in the late 19th century as a resource for the study of decorative arts. Cooper Hewitt has expanded on its founders’ original goal to create a platform that is more expansive and better represents previously unexplored areas.

Today, the collection is organized in five curatorial departments, Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design; Product Design and Decorative Arts; Wallcoverings; Textiles; and, most recently, Digital. New acquisitions showcase aesthetic values and mastery of technique, but also reflect the importance of socially responsible practices, racial and social justice, and the impact of the digital era and the climate crisis in people’s lives.

The exhibition begins with a juxtaposition of an ancient Egyptian lotus-shaped cup and the original coronavirus model—among the oldest and newest acquisitions in the collection—both of which are symbols of their time and share a story about how people understand the world around them.

Highlights of the work on view include:

  • A projection of Watercolor Maps (2012–2015), the first acquisition of a live website into the collection. Visitors will be able to zoom in on particular cities across the world through this web-based, open-source mapping tool designed by Stamen Design that displays OpenStreetMap’s data with the hand-hewn textures of watercolor paint.
  • A series of posters by Jésus Ruiz Durand, created between 1969 and 1972, which are focused on the agrarian reform movement in Peru. These posters created an extraordinarily colorful and hopeful visual campaign that looked to op art (optical art) and pop art for inspiration.
  • Faith Ringgold’s 1971 Black feminist poster that adapts the patterning of Kuba textiles from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ringgold presents a puzzle of words, WOMAN/FREE/YOUR/SELF, each contained within a triangle that individually resonates as a shout and all together becomes a call to action.
  • Jay Sae Jung Oh’s Savage Chair (2021), composed of found household objects and discarded everyday items that she has meticulously bound together and laboriously hand-wrapped in leather cord.
  • Fernando Mastrangelo’s Rainbow Sprinkle Drum Stool (2017), which uses multi-color sugar sprinkles to create a dynamic static effect while offering a commentary on excess and indulgence in contemporary society.
  • Nick Cave’s design for the wallcovering “Wire” (2022), which was digitally printed using matte ink on a metallic Mylar ground to create the effect of a furry surface.
  • A 1947 Floor Lamp by Greta Magnusson Grossman, who was pivotal in shaping the visual vocabulary of California midcentury modern design.
  • Textile, Van Gogh (designed late 1950s), by Trinidadian artist and designer, Althea McNish, who achieved international recognition in the 1950s and onward for her colorful furnishing and fashion fabrics that often depicted the tropical landscape of her homeland.
  • “Girls” (1972) by Alexander Girard, which was designed as part of the Environmental Enrichment Panels series, which were intended to create a more playful and cheerful workspace.
  • Charles Reilly’s 2019 digital video, “Choreography of Life,” exemplifies his multidisciplinary creativity as a visual artist and molecular biophysicist. His work uses the design process of creating molecular dynamic simulations to investigate and explore.


Generous support for “Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection” is provided by Cooper Hewitt’s Collections Committee and by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation.


The exhibition is organized by Maria Nicanor, director; Matilda McQuaid, acting director of curatorial; Christina De León, acting deputy director of curatorial and associate curator of Latino design; Cynthia Trope, associate curator, Product Design and Decorative Arts; and Sophia Gebara, curatorial assistant.

Exhibition design by Field Guide Architecture and Design with Castro Watson. Exhibition graphic design by Kelly Sung.


Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum, education and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the landmarked Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 215,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world.

For more information, visit www.cooperhewitt.org or follow @cooperhewitt on InstagramFacebook and YouTube.