This exhibit is about people, culture, and design evolving.
This exhibit is about people, culture, and design devolving.
This exhibit is about people, culture, and design simultaneously evolving and devolving.
All of the objects in this room reflect a juncture in design where values, forms, and relationships broke down and new iterations emerged.
I call it d+evolution.
In preparing this exhibit, I myself have gone through a d+evolution:
From bass-playing, singer–songwriter to curator and piano “re-imaginer.”
D+evolution happens in life as well as in design. THAT is what this exhibit is really about.
Each little undoing of what we know—or who we think we are—prompts a next step in our evolution toward what we become.
The design of who we are is constantly devolving and evolving—from environment to environment, idea to idea, style to style—simultaneously breaking down while building up what it means to be you, me, and we.
This exhibit is a celebration of d+evolution.
As you explore the gallery, you’ll be accompanied by four pieces of music d+evolved from one of the pieces of sheet music to your right.
Enjoy, and may your state of being forever be d+evolving!
–Esperanza Emily Spalding
The progression of these designs documents our expanding cultural awareness: the devolution of patently racist images opens the door to an evolving kinder awareness of our common realities. This group features sheet music cover designs used to market American popular music in the early 20th century. Representations of the people depicted on these covers illustrate degenerate and evolving views toward the indigenous, North African, or African American traditions that influenced each song. For example, “Quit Cryin’ the Blues” features a weeping Sambo caricature of an African American man. “Solitude,” from 1934, displays an elegant photo of composer Duke Ellington. The artist who sketched the players surrounding Ellington focused on their roles in the orchestra rather than their racial identity. Fifteen years later, “Sugar Blues” carries the picture of a smiling, elegantly dressed European‑American. Music and design integration often precedes societal integration, though our progress seldom travels in a straight line. People buying this sheet music may have perceived themselves as separate or superior to caricatures portrayed on these covers, yet they welcomed the culturally mixed songs into their homes and playing hands.
Common reeds and invasive bamboo became fine serving ware, which can easily decompose back into the earth.
Each of these pairs demonstrates a new decorative design evolving—emerging from the aesthetics of purely functional parts, equipment, or tools. The derivative objects have no use in the environments from which the designs they are modeled after emerged.
This 1989 biography of Josephine Baker—world-renowned singer, dancer, spy for the Allies during World War II, and adoptive mother of war orphans—defaults to an objectifying portrait that shows her posing nearly naked.
Collection of Smithsonian Libraries, Cooper Hewitt, N5 .W469
The exchange of aesthetics between colonized people and their oppressors evolves and devolves the previously concentrated design values of both parties. These textile, fashion, and wallcovering designs demonstrate styles that developed in Western nations influenced by the traditions and trends of colonized lands, and vice-versa.
Harlem Toile de Jouy was inspired by the traditional format of toiles de Jouy, copper plate-printed fabrics popular in the 18th century. They frequently showed pastoral scenes and personifications of the Continents with a somewhat staggered placement across the width of the fabric. Working with this design format, Bridges has replaced the classical landscape scenes and personifications found on historic toiles with contemporary views that explore some of the stereotypes embedded in the African American experience.
Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund
The subtractive process by which Indian madras becomes pelete bite is a transformative one. Kalabari women selectively remove threads from the simple woven plaids or checks. Often the lightest and brightest threads are removed, leaving a striking dark geometric design on a lighter checked ground.
Paul Poiret hired untrained girls to work in his school, École Martine. Encouraging them to sketch their innocent impressions of plants and animals, Poiret turned the drawings into popular drapery, carpet, and wallcovering designs.