1/18/2010; Monday (MLK Jr. Day)
MUSEUMS: Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
TIME: 2 hrs
COST: $10 each, plus free audio tour
Today we continued our exploration of the famous “Museum Mile” in the posh Upper East Side, a stretch of 5th Avenue across the street from Central Park with a grand total of 11 museums, including one of the largest museums in the world (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) and one of the most distinctive (The Guggenheim). However today our selection was based on the sole criteria that the museum be open on the holiday (MLK Jr. day). Surprisingly for institutions so integral to the tourist trade, not many museums were open today.
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, a NY branch of the Smithsonian. The Coopper-Hewitt claims to be the only museum in the world “devoted to historic and contemporary design”, and I’ll admit that both Paul and I were a bit puzzled as to what the museum would contain. We both pictured exhibits of household goods and furniture, like maybe “the history of the chair” with rows of historic and modern chairs. Fortunately for us it was much more interesting than what we imagined.
The Cooper-Hewitt is housed in the former mansion of Andrew Carnige, a lovely Georgian-style “country-house” built at the turn of the century, and notable as one of the first residences to have central heating AND air-conditioning. The lobby is breathtaking, with the floors, walls and ceilings covered in elaborately carved and gilded wood, making you feel like you were standing in a massive and ornate hollow tree. Sort of like visiting very wealthy Keebler elves. Unfortunately, at some time in the past the interior decorations were stripped out of the rest of the mansion, leaving only blank white walls and little personality, and leading us to wonder what the rest of it looked like when the Carnegies lived here.
winners of the National Design Awards from the last 10 years.
These awards honor “outstanding contemporary achievements in American architecture, landscape design, interior design, product design, communication design, corporate design, interaction design, and fashion.” Apparently there have been a lot of them handed out over the last 10 years, and it made for a very dense exhibit. The rooms were full of rows of shelves divided into small spaces, with consecutive spaces dedicated to various things such as the design of the first laptop computer (see picture), a lifetime achievement award for architecture (see picture of I. M. Pei's dome below), a novel design for pants, the invention of a human propelled plane, and Tupperware. If you go we HIGHLY recommend standing in line for the free interactive iPod tour. There’s little text on the exhibits themselves to explain what each is and without the tour we would have been lost, pointing and whispering questions like “What’s with the pants?”.
Paul’s one complaint was that much of the museum seemed awfully commercial, and while the argument should certainly be made that good design can and possibly should be commercialized, it was disconcerting that some of the prominently featured companies (i.e. Target and Apple) were also the exhibit’s sponsors. It lead us to ponder what Paul called the “chicken and egg scenario.” What came first, the Design Award to these companies, or their sponsorship of the award? Food for thought.
Ta for now; we will fill you in on the Neue Gallery next posting.