About the exhibition

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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

Image features tall vase with vertical rods of lattimo glass alternating with transparent glass containing irregular circular and oval polychromed murrine. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Glass Rods, Like Slices of Candy, Add Color and Depth
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 vase by Anzolo Fuga, was created using clear glass (cristallo) which was decorated with vertical rods of opaque white glass (lattimo) and multi-colored murrine. Murrine are colored...
Image features a book plate showing a color chart in the form of a 12-pointed star set above a rectangular chart composed of horizontal colored bars. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
A Not So Modern Color Tool
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. Professor Johannes Itten created a color sphere, represented by this 12-pointed star, as a tool for students at the Bauhaus. Inspired by Philipp Otto Runge’s...
Image features a repeating pattern of greatly magnified rose chafer beetles printed in green and blue. Please scroll down for further information on this wallpaper.
It’s All About the Beetle
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 blog originally posted in September 2016. When I first saw this wallpaper I had to stop and do a double-take. It is very unusual for an...
Image features a pair of neon green and black Nike Flyknit running shoes. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
High Voltage
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. Nike’s high performance running shoe, Flyknit Racer, uses advanced knitting technology and only the most essential materials to create an ultra-light racing shoe. Nike’s design team precisely...
Image features a low, deep red circular box deeply carved with a landscape on the lid, surrounded by bands and fields of geometric and floral decoration and Buddhist symbols. Box sits on a carved circular wooden stand. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Detailed Carvings are Wishes for a Long Life Filled with Abundance
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 red lacquer box has a short circular foot and a precisely fitted circular lid. Together these elements combine to present a unified whole. The box rests...
Image shows a 72-segmented color wheel. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this article.
MAXIMUM CHROMA
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. Following his groundbreaking 1839 treatise on simultaneous contrast, Michel Eugène Chevreul spent 25 years designing one of the first color systems to include brightness and...
Image shows wallpaper with a geometric pattern printed in an irise or rainbow effect. The printed floral design shades from yellow to brown, the ground color shades from blue to white. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
A Vision of the Future
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 style of wallpaper, with its optical effect of reflecting light, is known as an irisé, or iridescent paper. The technique, also known as rainbow method, was...
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...