Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Presents Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay

First Major U.S. Museum Exhibition of Sonia Delaunay’s Work in 30 Years

The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present the exhibition “Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay,” from March 18, 2011, to June 5, 2011. Organized by Susan Brown, assistant curator, and Matilda McQuaid, deputy curatorial director, the exhibition will feature Sonia Delaunay’s designs for textiles and fashion in the 1920s through the 1940s, when she was intensively exploring the relationship between fabrics and contemporary art in terms of movement and color. Among the more than 300 works on view are garments and textiles, with correlating designs, fashion illustrations and period photographs.

Known primarily as an abstract painter and extraordinary colorist, Delaunay (1885 –1979) applied her talents and theories to all areas of visual expression throughout her career, including graphics, interiors, theater and film, fashion and textiles. She made little distinction between her paintings and her design work, considering all to be part of a practice of bringing art into everyday life. The exhibition features her 1946 oil painting, “Rythme Coloré,” as well as gouaches, illustrated poems and pochoir prints.

“By showing her work at Cooper-Hewitt, the constant interplay between art and design will be strong and clear and by virtue of Delaunay’s glorious colors, a very joyful experience,” said Bill Moggridge, director of the museum. “This will be an extraordinary opportunity to see Delaunay’s work in a context that takes into consideration the diversity of her artistic talent and the deep connections between form, color and movement.”

“Color Moves” surveys the artist’s designs for fashion and textiles, covering two major periods: the 1920s, when she had her own Atelier Simultané in Paris, and the 1930s, when she designed textiles for the fashionable Metz & Co department store in Amsterdam. The exhibition brings together exceptional examples of designs, textiles, garments and photographs from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, the Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffes de Mulhouse, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and private collections around Europe and the United States.

Born Sonia Terk in Russia, Delaunay moved to Paris as a young woman and remained there most of her life. In 1910 she married the painter Robert Delaunay, and through the 1910s the two worked closely together on their theory of “simultaneity,” or the sensation of movement and rhythm created by the simultaneous contrasts of certain colors.

The exhibition will begin with her experimental “poem dresses” of the 1910s, which represented a synthesis of word, body and movement. The concept perhaps first coalesced for her in the work with poet Blaise Cendrars, whose poems she illuminated with abstract color forms.

The first large gallery will be devoted to the Simultaneous Boutique, which opened in conjunction with the 1925 Paris Decorative Arts Exposition, and where she exhibited garments that were extensions of her painting practice. The fashions are pure geometric forms in rhythmic patterns and brilliant colors that exactly suited the modern spirit. A display of garments from this period will be on view, including driving caps, bathing suits and a coat made for Gloria Swanson. Black-and-white photographs of models and famous actresses of the day wearing Delaunay’s creations evoke the glamour of Jazz Age Paris in the 1920s.

The second part of the exhibition will examine her work for the Metz & Co department store in Amsterdam, which is virtually unknown in the United States. The completeness of the Metz & Co collection enables Cooper-Hewitt to show Delaunay’s process, from the initial sketch through the finished product, as she developed her technical skills as a textile designer. Metz & Co director Joseph de Leeuw also promoted other artist/designers, including Bart van der Leck and Gerrit Rietveld, and one area of the exhibition will explore the mutual aesthetic influences among these important figures.

Image: Sonia Delaunay in her studio at boulevard Malesherbes, Paris, France, 1925. Photographed by Germaine Krull (German, 1897–1985) Bibliothèque Nationale de France © L & M SERVICES B.V. The Hague 20100623

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  1. Miriam Taylor says:

    I today visited the “Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay” exhibit and would like to comment on some of the information given next to each piece exhibited.

    In general, the information should have included the weave structure
    of the fabric on which the designs were printed. In particular, the information about certain pieces was wrong. For instance: the shawl, fig. 48 in the catalog, is described as knitted. Actually it is woven and felted.

    It is a beautiful and very worthwhile exhibit and I hope will travel to other museums,


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