Beauty is a rather broad subject for a design triennial, but the studios on exhibition at Cooper Hewitt are willing to chase this white whale and show us many fascinating things along the way. With contemporary ceramics, fashion and even the opening credits sequences of television shows on view, the exhibition threatens to become messy, but overall we’re presented with an impressive romp through contemporary design.
Above image: Ana Rajcevic, wearable sculpture from “ANIMAL- The Other Side of Evolution” collection 2012, fiberglass, polyurethane, and rubber; 8 1/4 x 13 3/8 x 6 5/16 inches. Photograph by Fernando Lessa.
Beauty (New York, February 12 – August 21) is the museum’s fifth contemporary design series. Assistant Curator Andrea Lipps and Senior Curator of Contemporary Design Ellen Lupton said that the exhibition “focuses on aesthetic innovation,” with more than 250 works by 63 designers from around the world. It’s split up into seven themes: extravagant, intricate, ethereal, transgressive, emergent, elemental and transformative.
The themes put away doubt that the Hewitt was approaching its subject too broadly. Beauty, how it’s defined and what qualifies as beautiful could inspire semantic, philosophical, and political debates that would last from now until the crack of doom. Like the old story of the blind men and the elephant, the curators understand that each of the designers can approach one type of beauty as individuals while none of them will be able to encompass beauty in its entirety. That sentiment was applied to the curators themselves. There was a pool of curation from people across the globe. Lipps explained to Designo:
“Certainly we were a bit intimidated by approaching the theme of beauty,” says Lipps. “The idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is absolutely true. It absolutely is subjective.” In response to this, the exhibits were initially put forth by a scattered group of international curators rather than a single curatorial team. Such a democratic approach to curation was opted for as a means “really broaden and enrich our own perspectives,” explains Lipps, who organised the exhibition alongside Cooper Hewitt senior curator Ellen Lupton. “It also helped us identify work by designers that otherwise we may not have been aware of.”
The themes point the designers in a direction. To explain a few of them: “Extravagant,” according to Designo, uses rich materials to create a sense of glamour in things such has hairstyles and gowns. “Intricate” uses detail-oriented craftsmanship to approach beauty. “Ethereal” incorporates ephemeral and short-lived designs. “Transgressive” may be the most interesting of the bunch, as it explores beauty in things that are outside of normative standards. Designers challenge gender, genre and behavior in this category.
We’ve assembled a number of photographs from around the show, both of contemporary ceramics and designs in other mediums. We’re looking forward to any other surprises this voluminous and ambitious survey turns up.
What do you think about these contemporary ceramics in design? Let us know in the comments.