written by:
March 3, 2016
Curator Ellen Lupton walks us through a few of the highlights from "Beauty," the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s design triennial, on view through August 21.
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

INTRICATE

Lively patterned fabrics from African textiles company Vlisco (center) and posters by Iranian graphic designer Homa Delvaray (left) are the centerpieces of works displayed under the "Intricate" heading, alongside a iridescent wallcovering by Colombian collective Hechizoo (right), which is inspired by rain falling on the Amazon.

"Intricacy is a traditional area of decorative art, including tattoos, and ornamentation, but also the body," says curator Ellen Lupton, who organized the show with assistant curator Andrea Lipps. "It's an area of fascination that's both primitive, but also very advanced. There are these intricate structures that emerge, often from manipulating a material to create that intricacy. That's really a theme throughout the whole show—stunning details, however they might be produced."

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
1 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

EXTRAVAGANT

"This room includes the classic makeup, jewelry, nails, hair—and a ball gown!" says Lupton. "This is what first comes to mind when people think of beauty, but these are all of those things at an extreme form." At center is a couture gown by Giambattista Valli; the portraits at left show otherworldly, bejeweled visages by makeup artist Pat McGrath. The photographs at right show experimental coifs by hairstylist Guido Palau.

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

EMERGENT

Among the technology-driven selections in this section are 3D-printed glass vessels by Neri Oxman of MIT's Mediated Matter Group, which transpire Spirograph-like, caustic patterns when illuminated from above. "These are all formal prototypes for a technique [Oxman] developed; it's a really incredible material that has potential applications for smart buildings," says Lupton. "These lines are layers of hollowed glass that are coiled up. At a larger scale, there could be liquid running through them to cool a structure, or wiring for a smart-building system." 

 

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
3 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

"This is all knitted using a 3D-knitting process; the pattern is based on how cells form, but it's also dictated by the tension of the structure," says Lupton of a spatial installation by Jenny Sabin, also included in the 'Emergent' grouping. "It's kind of like a tent held together by the fabric, and the threads are photo-luminscent, so in theory, they collect daylight and release it by night. We've simulated that indoors by having the light cycle from day to night—right now, we're in dawn."

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
4 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

ETHEREAL

"This piece is by Tuomas Markunpoika—he took a traditional wardrobe and covered it with welded steel rings, then burned away the wood," explains Lupton. "We love this idea of process, and the story of the making of the object." To the right are headdresses by fashion designer Maiko Takeda.

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
5 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

Also included in the 'ethereal' section is a scent design by Sissel Tolaas, who was commissioned to create a smell based on Central Park. "It's very earthy," says Lupton.

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
6 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

TRANSGRESSIVE

"They're just stunning, weird, otherworldly, and completely intricate," says Lupton of the Afreaks collection by the Haas Brothers, who hand-beaded each piece in collaboration with South African craftswomen, affectionately referred to as the "Haas Sisters."

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
7 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

ELEMENTAL

The 'elemental' grouping collects items that display an elegantly spare use of "essential materials," says Lupton. Among the selection is Michael Anastassiades's Mobile Chandelier (center), made from black patinated brass and mouth-blown opaline glass.

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
8 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

TRANSFORMATIVE

The seventh and final section features knitted garments by Laduma Hgxokolo (front); behind them are architectural furnishings by designers Dokter and Misses, which were inspired by painted African houses. "This one comes from a whole village of pieces," says Lupton, "and they all have hidden storage that's part of them."

 

 

Courtesy of 
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
9 / 9
Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, Beauty, exhibition view, 2016

INTRICATE

Lively patterned fabrics from African textiles company Vlisco (center) and posters by Iranian graphic designer Homa Delvaray (left) are the centerpieces of works displayed under the "Intricate" heading, alongside a iridescent wallcovering by Colombian collective Hechizoo (right), which is inspired by rain falling on the Amazon.

"Intricacy is a traditional area of decorative art, including tattoos, and ornamentation, but also the body," says curator Ellen Lupton, who organized the show with assistant curator Andrea Lipps. "It's an area of fascination that's both primitive, but also very advanced. There are these intricate structures that emerge, often from manipulating a material to create that intricacy. That's really a theme throughout the whole show—stunning details, however they might be produced."

"Beauty" may not be the first buzzword that comes to mind when approaching contemporary design, but it's perhaps the most enduring, and ephemeral—from the days of antiquity to the present, beauty has long been a topic of consternation by philosophers and creative minds alike. The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s latest design triennial, Beauty (through August 21) explores the complexity of that very topic head-on, with a multifaceted viewpoint that's rooted firmly in the present—and the potential future.

The bold choice of theme is coolly subversive, in light of the museum's previous triennials, which tackled ambitious topics at the intersection of social design, infrastructure, and service. "We thought the notion of beauty was sort of oddly edgy," says curator Ellen Lupton, who organized the show with assistant curator Andrea Lipps. "There’s a whole emphasis in the design world right now on design thinking, as well as innovation and technology and service design, systems versus objects; we’re all into that—and the show’s about that, too. Beauty is also a big tradition of this museum, which is historically rooted in the decorative arts."

The fifth edition of the museum's design triennial, Beauty features more than 250 works explored through seven thematic descriptors—extravagant, intricate, ethereal, transgressive, emergent, elemental, and transformative—and runs the gamut, from furniture and product design, to fashion and jewelry, crafted and 3D-printed objects, graphic posters, and even digital interfaces and speculative designs. "It seemed like a moment to celebrate the designer, and the sensuality and richness of design," says Lupton. "It became a very clear lens, because not all designers are interested in beauty; it isn't the only concern."

Far from preaching a singular standard of beauty, the alluring pieces on display pose alternative, and refreshingly diverse depictions that break wide open that elusive, age-old notion. A catalogue companion to the show, itself a distinctive object, designed by Kimberly Varella of Content Object Design Studio, collects each of the featured designers’ takes on the topic, many of them poetic musings: “Beauty is a fleeting dream of an object, thought, or moment,” says Dutch ceramicist Olivier van Herpt, whose 3D-printed vessels are on display. It’s certainly a fitting and beautiful thought.

Check out our walk-through of the exhibition above, with commentary from Lupton.

 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016