Jazz Age Design at Cooper Hewitt

Flappers and hepcats, it’s time to celebrate the Jazz Age with a must-see exhibit at New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Skyscraper Bookcase Desk, c. 1928. Paul T. Frankl (American, b. Austria, 1886–1958). California redwood, black lacquer; 219.7 x 163.8 x 85.1 cm. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John Halick, 1984.7.2.

The Cooper Hewitt might not be at the top of every tourist’s must-see list when they visit New York City, but it really should be. Part of the magnificent Museum Mile along Fifth Avenue, the Cooper Hewitt is not only the first Smithsonian Museum outside Washington DC, it’s also the first American museum founded by two women (Sarah & Eleanor Hewitt, granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper), and it just happens to be located in the awe-inspiring Carnegie Mansion. Even if their current show is not your thing, Sweeties, it’s worth dropping in just to take in the splendor of the setting.

Josephine Baker drawing by Paul Colin, 1930

But, knowing you as we do, we can safely say that the current exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt is definitely your thing. It is certainly ours. The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s is a comprehensive look at a period of explosive creativity in design. Spanning two floors, the show includes “more than 400 examples of interior design, industrial design, decorative art, jewelry, fashion, and architecture, as well as related music and film.”

That means a beaded Chanel flapper dress in shades of blue, colorful Cartier cigarette cases, glittering Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, sleek silver Tiffany cocktail sets, skyscraper-inspired bookcases, gorgeous table settings, and so much more.

Chanel evening dress and under-slip, 1926

We were struck by the breadth of the exhibition, which includes pieces from the Egyptian Revival movement, Bakelite radios, film clips of jazz greats, and really clear explanation of how the Jazz Age represented freedom -especially for women, who had not only recently been given the Vote, but had also given up corsets. Ergo dieting, dancing and daring fashions all came into vogue.

One of the best things about the Jazz Age exhibition is how interactive it is. In the Immersion Room, for example, you can use a large electronic table to design prints for wallpaper that is then projected onto the surrounding walls - all while listening to music supplied by Jazz at Lincoln Center.


Van Cleef and Arpels Egyptian Bracelet, c1924

In fact, the entire museum is interactive thanks to electronic pens handed out to each visitor. You can "design" on the tables sprinkled throughout the museum with one end of the pen and you can click on exhibition notes to "save" your favorite displays into a personally curated page that awaits you when you go home and log onto the museum's website. It's modern, easy to use, and is a great way to personalize your visit to one of New York City's unsung museum gems.

Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s is on until 20 August 2017.