About the exhibition

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.

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

Image features a grid of brilliantly colored rectangles of varied sizes on an unbleached linen ground. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Double the 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. This post was originally published October 17, 2015. Jack Lenor Larsen collaborated with artists, designers, and craftspeople all over the world. The collaboration between Larsen and Richard...
Image features a rectangular poster whose surface is covered with with strips of color gradients and printers marks organized into various shapes. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Macro Micro Marks
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. Graphic designer Fanette Mellier (French, b. 1977) has a contemporary practice that frequently highlights process in the printed medium.  Her stunning poster, Specimen, initially appears abstract.  Dominated by...
Image features upright vacuum cleaner with yellow, gray and clear plastic cylindrical body. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
James Dyson: Designing Out Annoyances
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 May 1, 2013. For many of us, a glance at everyday appliances elicits a wince or a groan: they’re dull looking,...
Image shows "Sunflower" pattern by William Morris. The design is printed in violet on a deep blue ground. Please scroll down for additional information on this paper.
A Sunflower of a Different 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. This wallpaper is a 1970s print of an 1879 design by William Morris, in a color combination he may have found shocking. Morris is often regarded as...
Printed velvet fabric with large bulls-eye circles in a gradation of turquoise shades.
Color Vision
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. Verner Panton believed that color played a greater role than form in design. Fascinated by color theory and the physics of light throughout his life, he published...
Image features upright triangular vase composed of blue, red, green and clear glass squares. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object
Like a Patchwork of light
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 January 1, 2013. Murano, an island located just north of Venice, Italy, in the Laguna Veneta, has been a glass-making center since...
Image features a color plate featuring five colors. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
RARITY OF COLOR HARMONY
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. Today’s post was originally published on February 23, 2015. A significant acquisition to the Cooper Hewitt Library’s special collections in 2014 was Édouard Guichard’s Die Harmonie der...
Image shows "Bloom" anaglyph or 3D wallpaper, a floral design of cacti printed in red, blue, and black. Please scroll down for additional information on this paper.
Through Anaglyph-Colored Glasses
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. Bloom is a 3-D or anaglyph wallpaper designed by LuzElena Wood as part of the DEEP 3D Wallpaper Project created by Architect Sarah Strauss in partnership with...
Large-scale woven hanging with translucent circles of light.
Bright Lights, Big City
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 December 12, 2014. Grethe Sørenson’s digitally woven hanging Rush Hour 2/ Shanghai is part of her Traces of Light series, created...