Ahead of His Times

Jan. 1, 2004
Exhibit explores the startlingly modern works of 19th-century industrial designer Christopher Dresser.
Design FlashAhead of His TimesExhibit explores the startlingly modern works of 19th-century industrial designer Christopher Dresser.Christopher Dresser, a pioneer industrial designer and one of the most influential figures in design during the 19th century, will be the subject of a full-scale retrospective on display this spring at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, NY. Commemorating the centennial of Dresser's death in 1904, the exhibition, titled "Shock of the Old: Christopher Dresser," will feature over 300 major works from his diverse and spectacular career. It will be on view from March 5, 2004 through July 29, 2004. The retrospective will then travel in September 2004 to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England.The retrospective will explore the evolution of Dresser's career—"shocking" in its extraordinary use of pattern, form, ornament and materials—and highlight his innovative creations for more than 70 manufacturers. Dresser was particularly adept at working in a broad range of media, including fabric and wallpaper design, architectural ornamentation, furniture, glass, metalwork and ceramics. He invented an eclectic vocabulary of design forms, drawing from myriad cultural sources—including Peruvian, Islamic, Abyssinian and Far Eastern—and from his observations of nature and of the Japanese emphasis on form rather than ornament. His designs were heavily influenced by experimentation with pattern, symmetrical images and geometric shapes, and his unique combination of materials and new production processes resulted in form that are startlingly modern.The exhibition will place significant emphasis on Dresser's aesthetic theories, which were grounded in an astute understanding of science and a belief in industrial production techniques that called for a new method of composition. Among the objects on display will be examples of his most groundbreaking designs, including a group of teapots he designed for James Dixon & Sons in the late 1870s, which, to 21st-century eyes, appear as remarkable precursors of the Bauhaus metalwork designs of Marianne Brandt and Wolfgang Tümpel.For more information, call (212) 849-8400 or visit www.si.edu/ndm.

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