This past summer, I had the amazing privilege to be able to intern with the communications and marketing department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum located right along Fifth Avenue, also known as “Museum Mile”, in New York. The museum specializes in presenting both historic and contemporary design and has been one of my favorite museums there since I first visited in 2009. It is a museum that is very special to me after spending so much time there this past summer.
“Thom Browne Selects” is an exhibition that is part of the “Selects” series at Cooper Hewitt in which a designer selects objects from the collection that resonate with them in order to contribute to the curation of a show. Thom Browne, this year’s designer, is a fashion designer who has won the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award multiple times. “Thom Browne Selects” has been on display since March and will be open until Oct. 23, 2016. So if you are in New York this fall…run, don’t walk to see it.
What is somewhat different yet cool about this exhibition is that you have to look at the exhibition as a whole- you are actually not able to walk around the space as the labels for the show form a sort of “barrier” (if you could call it that) between the visitor and the exhibition itself. This allows you to see all the mirrors together and really consider the overall meaning. The exhibition is located right at the front of the museum, and visitors see the space right upon entering. The room is very eye-catching with all the silver and gold on the mirrors. Before I started my internship at the museum, I had watched this interview with Thom Browne in which he compares some of his fashion shows with the exhibition and discusses some of the overarching ideas in his designs. It was pretty cool to see the interview discussing these ideas that are shown in the exhibition and then be able to really understand what they were discussing once I got to the museum.
A little more about Cooper Hewitt: The museum is located in the former mansion of Andrew Carnegie (seen in the photo above) and the building has a lot of history. Cooper Hewitt is know for its interactive technologies – they have this item called “the Pen” that is really unlike anything else you might find in another museum and allows you to “collect” items by pressing the pen against a plus sign that is on each museum label . Then, upon returning home, visitors can view the items they collected by entering a code from their museum ticket on the museum website, allowing them to learn more about what they selected. Cooper Hewitt really encourages visitors to engage with what they are seeing- both in the museum and through social media and online.
The museum’s Immersion Room (shown in photo below) is a space in which visitors can project full scale projections of wallpapers from the collection as well as design their own wallpapers using the interactive table. I know from personal experience how popular this space is- visitors tend to spend lots of time in there coming up with creative designs and then taking photos. This is actually one of the few photos that I took in the Immersion Room (that I am in) during my time working at the museum, but I was pretty excited about it. I swear, there are times when it seems like people are having their own little photoshoots in there. The cool thing that happens with those photos, however, is that they often end up on social media (often with one or both of the hashtags- #cooperhewitt or #ImmersionRoom) and those photos act as both great marketing tools but also a way for people to share their awesome designs. It’s definitely a highlight of the museum.
Cooper Hewitt recently finished a project in which they made 200,000 of the collection objects available to view online (and released a pretty cool video which is below). As you will learn in the video, a mass digitization project by a museum is a very ambitious and unique endeavor. Having interned at the museum, I am fairly familiar with the collections website and can assure you that the website is great for both museum enthusiasts and researchers a like. Cooper Hewitt has a very one-of-a-kind collection in the way that they have a lot of pieces you would expect to find, but then all sorts of items you would never expect to find. This article does a really great job explaining the variety of pieces in Cooper Hewitt’s collection and how the collection website makes these items more accessible.