About the exhibition

Buy tickets.

Saturated explores the elusive, complex phenomenon of color perception and how it has captivated artists, designers, scientists, and sages. Featuring over 190 objects spanning antiquity to the present from the extraordinary collections of Smithsonian Libraries and Cooper Hewitt, the exhibition reveals how designers apply the theories of the world’s greatest color thinkers to bring order and excitement to the visual world.

More than three dozen magnificent and rare books from the Smithsonian Libraries are installed throughout the exhibition,  emphasizing the ongoing theoretical and practical discourse on color. Illustrated with spheres, cones, grids, wheels, and other graphic means for organizing color’s hues and harmonies, the works include texts written by designers, naturalists, and chemists, as well as some of the  most important color treatises of the Enlightenment, such as Sir Isaac Newton’s 1704 Opticks and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s  1810 Theory of Colors. Also on view, a very rare surviving volume of Jacob Christophe Le Blon’s 1725 Coloritto, the first book to document the mixing of primary colors to create secondary colors that became the foundation of modern color printing.

To show how these findings have been realized and advanced by designers, objects from all four curatorial departments present a globally and stylistically diverse installation of iconic, experimental, and vernacular design.  The works of color innovators, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Massimo Vignelli, and Hella Jongerius, demonstrate design’s continuing investigation of new materials, technologies, and techniques, while recent acquisitions for the collection point to future directions. Saturated also investigates color’s relationship with music, camouflage, and advances in color reproduction, highlighting its importance to everything from philosophy to mass communication. Visually and intellectually stimulating, Saturated expands awareness of our deeply personal and rewarding relationship with color.

highlights

A selection of objects in the exhibition. View more objects.

Color Decoded: The Textiles of Richard Landis

In conjunction with Saturated, an exhibition of the recent acquisition of six of the master weaver and colorist’s most important works, installed together with three process drawings and 13 more of Landis’s textiles; all produced between 1967 and 1995. Landis’s double-cloth textiles are complex systems of closely related full-tones and half-tones of color, organized into abstract geometries of endless variation. Learn more about Color Decoded.

Supporters

Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color is made possible in part by support from the August Heckscher Exhibition Fund, Judy Francis Zankel, PeclersParis, and The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

The Saturated Blog series

Woven blanket with a grid of squares of subtly graduated colors.
Careers in Color: Designtex
As research for the exhibition Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018–January 13, 2019) curators interviewed color specialists working in diverse industries and fields, from fashion forecasting to early childhood education. Careers in Color invites these specialists to explain what their job entails and how their love of color led to a...
Display of hand-painted papers, ink bottles, and brushes
Careers in Color: Peclers Paris
As research for the exhibition Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018–January 13, 2019), the curators interviewed color specialists working in diverse industries and fields, from fashion forecasting to early childhood education. For our Careers in Color blog series, we asked these specialists to tell us about their work and how their...
CAREERS IN COLOR: SHEPHERD COLOR COMPANY
As research for the exhibition Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018–January 13, 2019), the curators interviewed color specialists working in diverse industries and fields, from fashion forecasting to early childhood education. For our Careers in Color blog series, we asked these specialists to tell us about their work and how their...
This image features a circular sample plate glazed with squares of various colors around the rim, surrounding the logo of a running buffalo in gold, all on a white background. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
What Color Is Your Buffalo?
Sample plates are produced by manufacturers of ceramic tableware as a means of demonstrating the colors with which items, usually in a particular product line, could be glazed. Sample plates provide insight into the colors—and, in some cases, decorative patterns—that were available and popular at particular moments in time. The Cooper Hewitt collection includes several...
Grid of red and pink color swatches
Careers in Color: Crayola
As research for the exhibition Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018–January 13, 2019), the curators interviewed color specialists working in diverse industries and fields, from fashion forecasting to early childhood education. For our Careers in Color blog series, we asked these specialists to tell us about their work and how their love of color...
Woven blanket with bands of graduated colors.
Cross-Disciplinary Color
To celebrate the opening of Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018-January 13, 2019), Object of the Day this month will feature colorful objects from the exhibition. Raw Color, the Eindhoven-based studio of Christoph Brach and Daniera ter Haar, explores the materiality of color through research and experiments that cross disciplines. In 2012, Raw...
Image features iron with clear glass housing encasing blue emulsion-covered body, with glass handle and metal sole plate; plastic and metal control knob below handle; power cord at rear. Please scroll down read more about this object.
Iron, Meet Glass
To celebrate the opening of Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018-January 13, 2019), Object of the Day this month will feature colorful objects from the exhibition. This post was originally published on July 26, 2015. The postwar design era focused largely on improving all aspects of life at home for those who had...
Image features a black and white striped poster. On the center of the poster, the black stripes are covered in the green outline of a man playing the saxophone and on the white stripes, the red outline of a man playing the tuba. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Jazz Motions
To celebrate the opening of Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018-January 13, 2019), Object of the Day this month will feature colorful objects from the exhibition. Niklaus Troxler (Swiss, b. 1947) designed this boldly colored poster in 2005 for the annual Willisau Jazz Festival, an event he co-founded in 1975.  Here, Troxler engages...
Image shows an RGB (red, green, blue) scenic wallpaper where three different scenes are printed one on top of another, each of which is revealed when viewed under a red, green, or blue light or filter. Please scroll down for further information about this wallpaper.
The Color of Landscapes
To celebrate the opening of Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color (May 11, 2018-January 13, 2019), Object of the Day this month will feature colorful objects from the exhibition. “Landscape No. 1” is one of the RGB (red, green, blue) wallpapers designed and printed by Carnovsky. RGB is a project about the surface, or skin of...