Beauty - Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday April 28, 2016

For the first DART Book Prize Essay Contest, students in Dr. Anastasia Aukeman’s Integrative Seminar 2: Visual Culture course at Parsons School of Design, in the School of Art and Design History and Theory, submitted their critiques of the Beauty–Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial exhibition. The second first place award goes to Anna Kampfe. The honorable mention will be announced and published in the following weeks.—Peggy Roalf 

Beauty: Art Emerging from Nature | by Anna Kampfe
What makes something beautiful? In the art world you’ll overhear words like rhythm or abstraction when wandering through exhibits or galleries. In truth anything has the potential to be beautiful because beauty is a concept that means something different to just about everyone. The Cooper Hewitt exhibition, Beauty, tries to answer the question by giving a varied selection of pieces of artwork that are all beautiful in different ways. 

There are a multitude of themes placed throughout the galleries like “transformative” and “elemental” that summarize what the artists consider beautiful. The first that caught my eye were by Jenny Sabin, an architectural artist who has a particular interest in math and Neri Oxman, who is interested in synthetic biology and fashion. These artists fall into the category of “Emergent Beauty” because both are emulating nature while adopting technical idioms like mathematics, code, and genetic engineering. The definition of the word “emergent” is “coming into view” or “the evolution of something.” Left: Neri Oxman’s ‘Otaared,’ from Wanderers collection, 2014 Photo: Neri Oxman.

Oxman takes the category she was placed in quite literally in her piece, Otaared, from a series named Wanderers. This is a bio-engineered fashion creation, in which seeds are planted in a printed shell. The seeds will grow into calcified bacterial protrusions that will organically protect the body. Oxman, using a natural occurrence, has created a new form of armor that people can wear. The colors produced glow in the light and remind us that there is wonder in the natural world (such as phosphorescence). Oxman has brought something from outside into an art museum to remind us that we as humans do not have to combat nature. We should embrace it. There is a beauty in nature that we often forget. 


PolyThread knitted textile pavilion, 2015-16; Designed by Jenny E. Sabin, Jenny Sabin Studio; Design Team: Martin Miller, Charles Cupples; Fabricated by Shima Seiki, WHOLEGARMENT; Engineering Design by Arup; Fabric finishing by Andrew Dahlgren; 3D seamless Whole Garment digitally knit cone elements, photoluminescent, solar active and drake yarns; twill tape; aluminum armature; Commissioned by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Another artist that uses nature’s natural situations to help mankind is Jenny Sabin. She created a temporary, lightweight pavilion that collects light during the day and redistributes it at night. To me it looks like an enlarged photo of a skin cell or organ at the microscopic level. Curving and creating a rhythmic appeal, this easily transported knitted structure is a truly interesting item to see in the museum. The look of it not really attractive from a distance, but it comes into its own when I stand beneath it. At close range I find beauty in the intricately knitted holes. From a distance I am uncomfortable staring at this odd spider web sort of piece. This is an example of my personal beliefs about what is beautiful. Being terrified of spiders and closed spaces makes this piece unwelcoming to me, but I saw many people underneath the pavilion enjoying themselves. I stood on the other side of the room and watched as the other students reached towards the openings and became mystified by the colors. It was wonderful to observe what different people enjoy in art. It took the others somewhere else, and that is why people should go to museums. To be taken somewhere apart from their daily experiences for a moment.

The exhibits are all interesting and worth traveling to see for yourself. Beauty is such a personal idea and this exhibition does a great job of allowing viewers to choose what they find beautiful. Whether you want to be reminded of nature or embrace it without running to the park across the street, this exhibition will transport you somewhere wonderful.

Beauty—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial continues through August 21. The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, 2 East 91st Street, NY, NY. Info Watch videos from Beauty—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial online



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