Previously On View: June 9, 2017 through January 21, 2018

See exhibitions currently on view.

About the exhibition

“…especially excellent.”—New York Times

Esperanza Spalding Selects is the 15th installation of Cooper Hewitt’s Selects exhibition series in which designers, artists, architects, and public figures are invited to examine and interpret the museum’s collection of more than 210,000 objects. Musician and four-time Grammy Award-winner Esperanza Spalding creates thought-provoking juxtapositions of collection objects to show how material evolves into different forms as new designers adapt it for their own locales and cultural functions; expanding on concepts Spalding investigated in the making of her groundbreaking 2016 album Emily’s D+Evolution.  Through her curation of nearly 40 drawings, prints, textiles, jewelry, and furniture, as well as works from the Smithsonian Design Library, Spalding explores how design—like music—both evolves and devolves in the process of transforming.

Four pieces of music Spalding recorded with pianist and composer Leonardo Genovese exclusively for the exhibition play in the gallery: a classic performance drawn from sheet music for “Love Songs of the Nile” selected from the Smithsonian Design Library, an improvised interpretation of the same song, a variation for bass and voice, and a re-arrangement of all three of these recordings electronically sequenced into a new composition. Spalding also enlisted Megan McGeorge, whose nonprofit “Piano. Push. Play.” restores unwanted pianos and places them in public for people to play,  and Robert Petty, of ZGF Architects, to create four deconstructed pianos that have been reformed to respond to the theme of transformation.

Featured image: Textile, Fan, 1985; Designed by Theo Maas; 100% cotton; H x W: 548.6 x 120 cm (18 ft. x 47 1/4 in.) Repeat H x W (repeat in weft direction): 120 × 45.7 cm (47 1/4 in. × 18 in.)



Esperanza Spalding Selects is made possible by the Marks Family Foundation Endowment Fund. In-kind support for the site-specific installation is provided by ZGF Architects. Piano provided by Steinway & Sons.

Image of Esperanza Spalding in Conversation with Caitlin Condell, Oct 2, 2017
Design Talk | Improvisation and Transformation: An Evening with Esperanza Spalding
A conversation with musician and four-time Grammy Award–winner Esperanza Spalding.
Fillmore Festivities
Posters produced in the 1970s for The Fillmore, the legendary San Francisco music venue made famous by industry pioneer Bill Graham, were renowned for their psychedelic styling. Between 1967 and 1971, Tea Lautrec Litho, a specialist printing house operated by Levon Mosgofian, produced over 200 posters advertising Graham’s constantly shifting roster of weekly performances. The...
Prestige and Protection
Prestige robes with flowing, wide sleeves and elaborate embroidery were worn by aristocratic Fulani, Hausa, and Nupe men. Their use is primarily associated with the 19th-century Sokoto Caliphate, centered in northern Nigeria, and their distribution is to key Islamic trade routes throughout the region. Their lavish use of costly hand-woven silk proclaimed the wearer’s wealth...
Visual Space in Music
Though this striking drawing may at first seem to present a colorful abstract fantasy, the design meticulously translates 78 measures of the 1870 music drama Die Walküre into a new complex visual form. Before creating this ornamental design, John De Cesare worked very successfully as an architectural sculptor. He provided sculptural decoration for some of...
Chan Chan
The diversity of styles that characterizes Larsen’s range is the result of his insatiable intellectual curiosity about the world’s textile traditions. He wrote extensively about resist-dye techniques in The Dyer’s Art: Ikat, Batik, Plangi, including fold-dying, in which pleating or folding are combined with resists like clamping or binding to create complex geometric patterns with...
A New Twist on Toiles
From the Object of the Day archives, Harlem Toile de Jouy wallcovering designed by Sheila Bridges for Studio Printworks installed in Esperanza Spalding Selects.
Woven tan wicker armchair with colorful found plastic and rubber objects (including discarded bottles, tire, flip-flop, broken doll parts) woven into, and protruding from, the form.
A battle between nature and plastic
From the Object of the Day archives, the Trans...Armchair designed by the Campana Brothers and installed in Esperanza Spalding Selects.