Originally published in Destination: Limited Edition Design (Mondadori Electa, 2008).
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, is the only museum in the US devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design in its broadest definition. The museum was founded in 1897 by the Hewitt sisters, granddaughters of eminent US industrialist Peter Cooper, as the study collection for The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. The collection was acquired by the Smithsonian Institute in the 1960s and moved to the Upper East Side in the 1970s. The Cooper-Hewitt Museum has since been housed in steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s 1901 Georgian-style mansion, a nationally preserved historic landmark. The building provides an elegant backdrop for the museum’s progressive yet accessible exhibition program. The museum’s collection includes more than 250,000 one-of-a-kind and mass-produced objects, organized into four curatorial departments: Product Design and Decorative Arts, Drawings and Prints, Textiles, and Wallcoverings. The scope of the collection is immense, representing all kinds of design work from all over the world from antiquity through the twenty-first century, including obscure bric-a-brac, such as buttons and hatboxes, and the most beloved design icons of the Modernist era. The exhibition program includes monographic studies of individual designers’ work as well as thematic and stylistic explorations into historical and contemporary design practice, with special emphasis given to the process behind design creation. One of the most interesting programs organized by the Cooper-Hewitt involves selections from the permanent collection curated by luminaries from the international art and design world, such as Yinka Shonibare, Hella Jongerius and the Campana Brothers. Another highlight of the programming is the National Design Triennial, which presents the best US design-work every three years.
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