Hall of mirrors: Thom Browne curates a reflective world for the Cooper Hewitt

Hall of mirrors: Thom Browne curates a reflective world for the Cooper Hewitt

One of the perennial highlights on the exhibition calendar of New York’s Cooper Hewitt museum is its ‘Selects’ series. For these small shows, the museum asks a design world luminary to respond to its 210,000-object collection, interpreting the material along a theme of the guest curator’s choosing.

For its most recent version, the museum turned to American fashion designer Thom Browne. Known for his methodical technique and continuous use of historical details, Browne – the winner of the Cooper Hewitt’s 2012 National Design Award for fashion – used the exhibition as a way to explore notions of reflectivity. Using his trademark interest in the serial, he identified two object types to anchor the show: mirrors and frames, explaining that he wanted to ‘play with the idea of uniformity and individuality’.

The objects range in provenance and style, including ornate 18th-century French cast and gilt bronze frames and mirrors, and some of more contemporary vintage, such as Hector Guimard’s fruitwood frame. As Browne imagines it, these mirrors allow the museum visitor to become part of the exhibition itself. He also engaged in a bit of self-reflection, laying out 60 pairs of wingtips from his own collection on the gallery floor. These he covered in nickel plating, making them respond to the exhibition’s theme.

As a way to create an immersive environment, Browne covered the floors and walls of the gallery in a holographic, reflective wallpaper designed by Osborne & Little, something the museum just recently acquired.

The installation takes over a first-floor room of the museum, a concise point of contrast to the sprawling ‘Beauty – Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial’ exhibition. This is the 13th such installation in the series, which has included a David Adjaye-curated selection of African textiles and design firm IDEO’s selection of objects that represent design thinking, in the past.

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