About the exhibition

This exhibition is extended to March 17, 2019.

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.


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.


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

Featured Image: Photo: Matt Flynn © Smithsonian Institution