What We Saw at the Cooper-Hewitt, NYC

We included the Cooper-Hewitt in our circuit of museums because we’d never been before, and when searching ArtGeek.art for exhibitions in New York City (09/27/17 - 10/03/17), we found a couple of listings that interested us:

Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age

and

Passion for the Exotic: Japonism

The collection, which spans thirty centuries of design, is housed in Andrew Carnegie’s former mansion on 5th Ave at 91st St. Built at the turn of the century, its fin de siècle interiors feature coffered oak ceilings, carved boiserie paneling , custom wallcoverings, and a Palladian bronze and glass conservatory. Much of the interior architecture is hidden behind display walls and ceilings, but there were occasional hints of former grandeur.

Oak paneling on staircase wall

No sooner had I noted the paucity of visible original features, than we came across a very cool interactive presentation of historic images of various rooms, shown on a large screen at the entrance to the third floor.

The Library in its hey-day

Apparently a permanent installation, room-by-room it includes anecdotes about how the family lived, and homes-in on objects of particular interest. “Former grandeur” in spades! Very engaging.

This was just one of numerous applications of technology being used at the Cooper-Hewitt. Totally new to me was the personal “pen” each visitor is given. Simply press the tip to the symbol on the signage for any object — an image and description of the item is placed on a personal website page to retrieve later. Here’s mine. Way cool! And the images are far better than what I got with my cell phone.

One of us is more technically-savvy than the other, but we were both fascinated by this exhibition — about what is being done with technology in design, engineering, and construction.

Design schematic, showing flow of foot traffic on bridge deck

Who knew that one could build a full-fledged iron footbridge with a 3D printer!? Laarman is doing just that, with his bridge across a canal in the red light district of Amsterdam (due to be completed 2018). The company created intelligent software that transformed a robot and a welding machine into a large scale printer, enabling 3D printing of metals on an architectural scale. Computer-based analysis allows them to determine in situ stress forces, so they can eliminate unnecessary material where there will be less stress, without compromising structural soundness.

Smaller-scale computer-crafted objects were also on display, including this chaise and a series of “Makerchairs” from the Laarman Lab. Note the patterns on the wall behind each Makerchair in the image on the left: these represent the individual pieces of material that fit together to make the chairs.

It turns out that in the “Teak Room” one is surrounded by original architectural detail. For those who respond to the Japanese aesthetic, this display of 50 works from the permanent collection is like walking into a treasure room. The exhibit highlights the ways Western design was influenced by Japanese aesthetics in the late 19th century.

Lots more to see at the Cooper-Hewitt. As we ambled toward the exit, numerous extraordinary decorative arts objects grabbed my attention, including these gorgeous pieces of furniture:

Don’t forget to drop your “pen” in the box on your way out!

I am an art geek, writing about art, exhibitions and museums. Discover more than 1600 art museums, artist studios, historic houses and gardens across the US.

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