A result of six years of scholarship, the traveling exhibition Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future is the first comprehensive show of Eero Saarinen’s work. The Museum of the City of New York was its sixth venue after the 2006 inaugural opening in Finland. The show includes black and white photography, presentation and working models, furniture, ephemera, animations, drawings, sketches, and blueprints. For this viewing, curators highlighted Saarinen’s connection to New York, and a fresh new identity was generated.
The show materials require an exhibition area of about 8,000 sq. ft., but the New York museum could provide only 6,000 sq. ft., including a connecting hallway. The spatial challenges for exhibition designers Cooper Joseph Studio (New York) didn’t end there: the space allocated for the exhibition is divided among three galleries of varying character and scale, two of which are non-adjacent, and one gallery in a modern glass addition to the red brick neo-Georgian style museum.
Despite these challenges, as well as a reduced budget and a load-in period of only two weeks, Cooper Joseph created an experience that made the show one of the most attended in the museum’s history.
The team used bold color and horizontal bands to organize the exhibition material into three cohesive environments.
In the first and largest gallery (3,100 sq. ft.), walls painted “limelight” hold viewers’ attention and coordinate with Saarinen’s work and the graphics. A rolling grey carpet creates benches for people to sit on during the film presentations facing either direction.
In the 800-sq.-ft. second gallery, the neo-Georgian interior architecture with moldings made hanging the modern material difficult. In the connecting hallway, the design team surrounded a model of Saarinen’s TWA terminal with a raised, glossy black panel, dramatically silhouetting the white forms against the black surface.
In the third (2,100 sq. ft.) gallery, Cooper Joseph painted the ceilings and walls black with a bold white stripe. The high-contrast graphic helps organize the diverse array of exhibition materials while neutralizing the interior architecture. At the center of the space is a room within a room that houses residential architecture. Inside, the space features vibrant red walls and carpet echoing Saarinen’s iconic Miller House.
“Among the exhibition-related entries, this project stood out with its sympathetic handling of the subject matter. The art direction is exquisite and the exhibition exudes pace and dynamism and yet at the same time is calm and simple. The handling of the historic building is also tackled with the same sensibility.”
“A powerful use of negative space. The simplicity of the design allows the viewer’s eye to rest between the presentation pieces. This actually gives more theatrical importance to the individual items on display. The minimal use of strong colors also lends hierarchical emphasis to areas of the exhibit.”
Wendy Evans Joseph, Chris Cooper (principals in charge); Chris Good (project manager)
Pentagram (graphic design consultants)
Voll Inc. (exhibition construction), Eurotex Inc. (carpet)