What does it mean to be a design museum today? Acquired! Shaping the National Design Collection highlights how Cooper Hewitt acquires new work to shape the collection to better reflect current issues and design’s evolving role in daily interactions. The exhibition features more than 150 works, including objects that represent the museum’s collecting legacy, as well as works brought into the collection since 2017.

The national design collection, which has been part of the Smithsonian since 1967, is a living one that continues to grow and change as new works and ideas that define our times are added. What design meant in the late 19th century when Cooper Hewitt’s collection was started is not what design means now.  Once rooted in aspirational decorative arts ideals, the criteria for acquisition are now more expansive and aim to better represent previously unexplored areas. As a result, the collection showcases aesthetic values and mastery of technique, but also speaks to the importance of socially responsible practices, racial and social justice, and the impact of the digital era and the climate crisis in our lives.    

Currently, the collection of over 215,000 objects spans more than 30 centuries across cultures from all over the globe. The entirety of the collection, its offerings interwoven together, tells nuanced stories about who we are that both embrace and confront the past and help inform our possible futures.    

Exhibition Highlights


To mark the occasion of Cooper Hewitt’s reopening in 2014, the museum published an expansive book based on its unparalleled collection. Designed by Irma Boom, Making Design features more than 1,100 collection objects, which are organized entirely by Boom’s visual sequencing of images; her design and the curators’ essays weave parallel narratives throughout the book. Learn more about the publication.


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. Graphic design by Kelly Sung.


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

A Closer Look: Porcelain Restoration
Object conservators discuss how to repair chips in gilded porcelain
Evolving Digital Collections and Their Stewardship: Stamen’s Watercolor Maps
A curator, a conservator, and a designer discuss the continual maintenance of Watercolor Maps, a born-digital mapping tool in Cooper Hewitt's digital collection.
Close-up view of the back of a wooden chair, a rectangular shape with concave edges and, embedded into it on deer hide, glass beads in white, brown, blue, red, green, and orange forming graphic abstract shapes.
Year of Glass: Contemporary Native American Beadwork
Teri Greeves embellishes traditional woodwork with glass beads to celebrate her Kiowa culture and ancestry.
A round-cornered gray television screen suspended on a rounded brass bracket. The bracket is centered on a beige, rectangular platform.
Year of Glass: Picture in a Tube
Once a ubiquitous staple of home entertainment, CRT televisions were a technical marvel. Learn about the physics and engineering that made the transmitted moving image possible with the help of glass.
Layers of blue and purple lines and shapes form the symmetrical background of a photomontage of a nude man, pictured from behind, with large butterfly wings. The word "LOVE" is repeated on the bottom in yellow on either side of the background shape.
An Avant-Garde Argentine: Edgardo Giménez
Designer Edgardo Giménez synthesized a variety of artistic styles to establish one of his own, a style that he blended with provocative imagery (including his own nudity) to produce graphics that both captured a moment in Argentine history and created a tool for self-promotion.
Printed fabric has a design of wheat sheaves in black against a background of orange and yellow.
The Glow of Althea McNish
Althea McNish (1924–2020) was one of the first Black women designers to receive international recognition for her achievements in design. Her textile Golden Harvest marks the beginning of a remarkable career for an under-recognized pioneer of 20th-century textile design.
A Year of Responsive Collecting at Cooper Hewitt
A collecting initiative, launched in 2020, aims to help Cooper Hewitt to acquire objects that shape and define our time.
Image features laptop computer in a low, black rectangular housing, hinged at top center to open, clamshell-style, revealing a screen and keyboard. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
A Milestone of Early Laptop Computer Development
The GRiD Compass laptop was an innovation due to its clamshell case. A media conservator discusses how to assess and maintain the digital elements within.