This weekend we're checking out the newly redesigned Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian's design museum in Andrew Carnegie's old mansion on the Upper East Side. After the museum, we'll head up to Dough Loco on 97th Street to grab some gourmet doughnuts.
THE ART /
The Cooper Hewitt is open again after a three-year period of renovations to the park-facing Gilded Age mansion that houses its huge, diverse collection. As a museum devoted to design, its galleries are filled with with all sorts of objects you might see and use in your everyday, non-museum life. When you stop to look at those same objects in a gallery -- from an elegantly simple smartphone to a ridiculously ornate birdcage -- you see them in a new light, and your relationship with them changes. It's healthy to pause every once in a while and reconsider why and how the objects in our lives look the way they do, and the Cooper Hewitt is as good a place as any to start.
When a museum boasts about its "interactivity," you can often find me heading for the exit to make way for the crowds of middle-schoolers. Here, though, they seem to have done it right. Actively engaging with the objects in the galleries at the Cooper Hewitt, plus doing a bit of designing yourself, makes for a fulfilling, thoughtful and fun experience at the museum. In the Immersion Room on the second floor, you can sketch out a pattern on a screen and see it instantly multiplied hundreds of times into a sort of virtual wallpaper all around you. Upstairs, a robotic arm sketches a portrait of you into a canvas of sand. The headline-grabber is their special futuristic "pen," which gives you access to information about any piece in the collection by first tapping the info label next to the piece and then holding the pen to one of the large screen-topped tables you'll find here and there throughout the museum.
The best exhibit at Cooper Hewitt right now is the Tools: Extending Our Reach show, which takes up the entire third floor and focuses on the objects -- always useful, often gorgeous -- we create to be extensions of ourselves. You start with a peek at toolboxes throughout history (an astronaut's really isn't all that different from a 19th-century physician's, it turns out), stop to see a hand-axe made 1.8 million years ago ago, and end up watching a robotic arm draw your own face in a little sandbox canvas. In the center of it all is "Controller of the Universe," a beautiful installation by the Mexican artist Damián Ortega. By hanging hundreds of small, everyday tools from the ceiling, he creates a sunlike orb of objects that appear to be frozen at the moment of explosion.
Some of the pieces at the Cooper Hewitt, like the elaborate tuning fork machine and the plastic casing for antennae on WWII bombers, are functional objects that happen to beautiful. Others, like a patterned Bob Dylan poster (presented alongside the Albert Durer print that inspired it) and a bright green 3D-printed vase, seem more like beautiful objects that happen to be functional. A third category, which includes the Carnegie mansion itself, seems to do both in roughly equal measure. Whichever way you look at it, you'll walk out of the museum noticing for all the ways designers have been able to sneak beauty into our everyday lives.
WHAT TO DO AFTER /
Head up a few blocks to Dough Loco, a new gourmet doughnut shop on 97th Street and Madison. Pick up a coffee and gorge yourself on doughnuts in classic flavors like chocolate or cinnamon sugar, or go for something wild like raspberry sriracha or blood orange. Diets can wait until 2015.