Deconstructing Power: W. E. B. Du Bois at the 1900 World’s Fair places decorative arts from Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection in dialogue with 20 innovative data visualizations that W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) created for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair to explore how design can both reveal and mask dynamics of power and equity.

Forty-seven countries participated in the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, each attempting to demonstrate to a global audience its cultural and economic progress through carefully crafted installations of the latest in art, imported materials, and cutting-edge innovations. For the Exhibit of American Negroes, Du Bois and his Atlanta University students made 63 hand-drawn diagrams that used shape, line, and color to showcase the success Black Americans had achieved despite facing pervasive racism in the United States and the global community. The data visualizations were created on presentation cardboard and conceived for a temporary installation at the fair. Given their fragile nature, the works will be rotated during the course of the exhibition.

This exhibition highlights these groundbreaking data visualizations, on loan from the Library of Congress, and, for the first time, will bring them into dialogue with the manufacturers and decorative arts also on display at the fair. Examples by Sèvres, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Emile Gallé illuminate how national styles were crafted; these examples also prompt a continued investigation of what and who defines a nation. Works by Carlo Bugatti, Adolf Loos, and Henry van de Velde call for deeper exploration of the imperial fantasies permeating modern design at the turn of the century.



Deconstructing Power: W. E. B. Du Bois at the 1900 World’s Fair was curated by Devon Zimmerman, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, in consultation with Lanisa Kitchiner, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress, and with support from Yao-Fen You, senior curator and head of product design and decorative arts at Cooper Hewitt, and Christina De Léon, associate curator of Latino Design at Cooper Hewitt.

Exhibition design and graphic design by Polymode.


Deconstructing Power: W.E.B. Du Bois at the 1900 World’s Fair is made possible with major support from The Hearthland Foundation and Denise Littlefield Sobel. Additional support is provided by the Ehrenkranz Fund and The Felicia Fund.


Furniture, metalwork, ceramics, drawings, and photographs transform the second floor of Cooper Hewitt into early-20th-century Paris in Deconstructing Power and the related exhibition, Hector Guimard: How Paris Got Its Curves. Concurrently on view, Hector Guimard invites a new understanding of France’s most famous art nouveau architect, Hector Guimard (1867–1942). Learn more.

Featured Image: Installation photo of "Deconstructing Power: W. E. B. Du Bois at the 1900 World’s Fair." Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution