Es Devlin, “Forest of Us.” Photo by Andrea Mora. Image courtesy of Es Devlin.
CELEBRATED ARTIST AND DESIGNER ES DEVLIN TO INSTALL 30-YEAR ARCHIVE IN FIRST MONOGRAPHIC MUSEUM EXHIBITION
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will present “An Atlas of Es Devlin” from Nov. 18 through Aug. 11, 2024. The genre-defying British contemporary artist and designer Es Devlin (b. 1971) is globally renowned for her large-scale, illuminated installations and sculptures for performances. Her wide-ranging practice, which began in small-scale theater, has been experienced by millions in some of the world’s most prominent museums, galleries, opera houses, arena and stadia. Her highly collaborative work is at once deeply personal and inherently collective. Devlin views the audience as a temporary society and invites public participation in communal works to encourage profound cognitive shifts.
For her first monographic museum exhibition, Devlin will install her 30-year archive across the third floor of the museum. “An Atlas of Es Devlin” will feature over 300 sketches, paintings, illuminated paper cuts and projection-mapped rotating miniature sculptures that form the seeds of some of the most iconic, cultural congregations of music, poetry, art and activism in recent times.
The exhibition will include previously unseen small-scale works that led to major public sculptures and choral installations exploring biodiversity, linguistic diversity and artificial intelligence (AI)-generated poetry at Tate Modern, V&A, Serpentine, Imperial War Museum, Superblue Miami and Lincoln Center, as well as kinetic stage designs at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and London’s Royal Opera House, Royal Ballet and National Theatre. It will feature the sketches, paintings and mechanical cardboard models that evolved into the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony, the 2022 NFL Super Bowl half-time show with Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar, as well as monumental, illuminated stage sculptures for Beyoncé, U2, Rosalía and The Weeknd.
“An Atlas of Es Devlin” will examine the origins, rigor and depth of Devlin’s process through a compelling journey into her 30-year archive, charting the evolution of form, scale and intention in her practice, from teenage drawings and paintings, to designs for theater, opera, stadium concerts and ceremonies, to her current engagement with climate and civilizational crises. The exhibition will reveal thematic connections and trace the development of her groundbreaking ephemeral architectures.
“Es Devlin’s polymathic practice dissolves boundaries between art, activism, design, poetry, sculpture, music and architecture,” said Andrea Lipps, associate curator of contemporary design and head of Digital Collecting at Cooper Hewitt. “Within an environment conceived by Devlin herself, this exhibition will immerse visitors in the artist’s studio and archive. Centering archival artifacts, the exhibition will reveal the remarkable breadth, rigor and iterative process underlying Devlin’s transformative, multidisciplinary work.”
“I have spent 30 years translating words into images and spaces—transforming texts on a page into kinetic sculptures that encompass viewers with light and song and use magic to alter their perspective,” Devlin said. “My craft is to imagine worlds that don’t yet exist, to invite audiences to practice ‘interbeing’ within psychological architectures they have not previously inhabited, to remind viewers that they are not separate but connected to one another and to the biosphere. For this exhibition, I have gathered the drawings, fragile paper sculptures and small-scale revolving cardboard models that I and my studio team have been making over the past three decades, a miniature parallel practice at the root of the large-scale public performance and installation works.”
“Cooper Hewitt continues to push the boundaries and contribute to a more expansive definition of what design means today and how it relates to the complex world around us,” said Maria Nicanor, director of Cooper Hewitt. “Es’ work and her multidisciplinary practice embody that profound intention, which is so important to communicate to our audiences as the nation’s design museum.”
THE STUDIO BECOMES A SHOW
As visitors enter the galleries, they will be invited into a replica of Devlin’s London studio to sit at her desk surrounded by tools, materials and works in progress. As the studio lights dim, projections will bring the objects and walls of the studio to life, encompassing viewers in Devlin’s voice and imagination.
AN INFINITE ARCHIVE
A giant projection of Devlin’s hand appears to slice through one of the studio walls, inviting a journey through Devlin’s archive of never-before-seen paintings, drawings, paper sculptures, sketches and revolving cardboard models. Projected imagery transforms many of the humble cardboard sculptures into replicas of the final large-scale luminous edifices.
AN ATLAS—A FILM
One of the galleries becomes a miniature cinema, engaging viewers with images and footage of Devlin’s installation and performance works.
AN INFINITE LIBRARY
Devlin’s protean work is rooted in a lifelong practice of reading and drawing, especially sketching in the margins of texts. The final gallery is filled with the texts that have guided Devlin’s work—from the plays, song lyrics and opera libretti that have informed her performance sculptures to the works of fiction, poetry, geo-philosophy, anthropological economics, biology and climate science at the root of her art practice over the past decade. The texts are brought to life with a program of collective readings, and visitors are invited to participate in a cumulative artwork while gaining insights to inform their own practice and purpose.
An Atlas of Es Devlin, the first monograph on Devlin’s genre-defying practice, is an experiential publication encompassing art, activism, theater, poetry, music, dance, opera and sculpture.
Published by Thames & Hudson to coincide with the exhibition at Cooper Hewitt and edited by Lipps, An Atlas of Es Devlin is a unique, sculptural volume of over 900 pages, including foldouts, cut-outs and a range of paper types, mirrors and translucencies. The book features over 700 color images documenting 120 projects spanning four decades, and a 50,000-word text featuring Devlin’s personal commentaries on each artwork as well as interviews with collaborators, including Bono, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brian Eno, Sam Mendes, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Alice Rawsthorn, Carlo Rovelli, Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye, Lyndsey Turner and Pharrell Williams. Each book is boxed and includes a die-cut print from an edition of 5,000.
Audiences will be invited to engage in practical workshops, talks and gatherings focused on shifting perspectives, a key intention of Devlin’s work.
“An Atlas of Es Devlin” is organized by Andrea Lipps, associate curator of contemporary design and head, Digital Collecting, and Julie Pastor, curatorial assistant.
Exhibition design by Es Devlin Studio, with designers of record and fabrication by Pink Sparrow. Graphic design by Morcos Key.
The exhibition is made possible with major support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Generous support is provided by Amita and Purnendu Chatterjee, Lisa Roberts and David Seltzer, Kimberly Schuessler, and Morgan M. Schuessler, Jr.
Support is also provided by the Arthur F. & Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation, the August Heckscher Exhibition Fund, the Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery Endowment Fund, the Esme Usdan Exhibition Endowment Fund, the Lemberg Foundation and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation.
ABOUT ES DEVLIN
Devlin creates large-scale sculptural installations that combine light, music and language. Her work is rooted in a lifelong practice of reading and drawing, from the plays, song lyrics and opera libretti that have informed her performance sculptures, to the works of fiction, poetry, geo-philosophy, anthropological economics, biology and climate science that have formed the foundation of her art and activism over the past decade. She views an audience as a temporary society and encourages profound cognitive shifts by inviting public participation in communal choral works. Her temporary participatory sculptures have been displayed at Tate Modern, Serpentine, V&A, Barbican, Imperial War Museum and Trafalgar Square.
“Come Home Again,” her 16-meter-high monumental choral sculpture outside Tate Modern, drew over 7,000 visitors each day to join diverse London choirs and species in choral song during its showing in September 2022. Her rotating illuminated sculpture, “Your Voices,” entangled viewers within the 700 languages spoken in New York City in collaboration with the Endangered Language Alliance in December 2022.
Her expansive mirrored “Forest of Us” invites viewers to inhabit the visual symmetry between the bronchial structures that allow people to breathe and the branching tree geometries that make breathing possible. The installation is still on view, having inaugurated Superblue Miami alongside new works by James Turrell in 2020.
Devlin’s collective AI-generated poem continues to evolve online having been initiated in 2016 as “Poemportraits” at the Serpentine. It formed the basis of the UK Pavilion at the World Expo 2020, the first building to generate a collective poem on its facade every minute.
She has created monumental luminous stage sculptures for Beyoncé, The Weeknd and U2, The Royal Opera House, National Theatre, La Scala and The Met Opera as well as the 2022 NFL Super Bowl half-time show featuring Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem and the 2012 London Olympic Closing Ceremony.
She was the subject of the Netflix documentary “Abstract: The Art of Design,” and has received multiple Olivier, Tony and Emmy awards, as well as an Ivor Novello award and a CBE.
ABOUT COOPER HEWITT, SMITHSONIAN DESIGN MUSEUM
Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum, education and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the landmarked Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 215,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world.
ABOUT BLOOMBERG PHILANTHROPIES
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 700 cities and 150 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation, corporate and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2022, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed US$ 1.7 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org, sign up for the newsletter, or follow on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Bloomberg Connects offers free digital guides to cultural organizations around the world. The app platform is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ longstanding commitment to supporting digital innovation in the arts. Bloomberg Connects makes it easy to access and engage with arts and culture from mobile devices when visiting in person, or anytime from anywhere. With dynamic content exclusive to each partner organization, the app provides a range of features including video, audio and text; expert commentary; and way-finding maps. Follow Bloomberg Connects on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for updates on new guide launches, exhibit highlights and more.