Setting quite a table at Cooper Hewitt

Needing inspiration for setting an artful holiday table? You just might find it at the new tabletop-themed exhibition at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in Manhattan.

As we head into the holiday season, when families and friends gather for special meals, you might be considering how you will set your own table.

If you’re in need of inspiration – of the most artistic kind – then consider a trip to Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in Manhattan.

That’s where “Tablescapes: Designs for Dining” takes visitors on a walk through three distinct dining installations.

Near the entrance to the first gallery is a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright that perfectly sets the mood for what’s to follow: “Dining is and always was a great artistic opportunity.”

Indeed, the three distinct galleries offer a different sensibility – though each is full of history, artistry and thought.

Advance materials shared the following details:

“At the center of the exhibition is Cooper Hewitt’s surtout de table, a magnificent, newly conserved treasure from the museum’s expansive collection of over 210,000 design objects that once ornamented the tables of French nobility at the turn of the 19th century. The exhibition also spotlights the work of the under-recognized but influential textile designer Marguerita Mergentime, active in the 1920s and ’30s, whose work has not received a dedicated museum presentation in 75 years. Pivoting to address 21st-century concerns, the exhibition debuts experimental and collaborative products commissioned from National Design Award-winning designers Joe Doucet and Mary Ping.”

Also advancing the show, Caroline Baumann, the director of the museum, said, “‘Tablescapes’ shows how taste and social values are expressed through style, materials and motifs. From awe-inspiring grandeur to vernacular wit to an emphasis on sustainability, the exhibition provokes a spirited conversation around design’s role in the evolution of a universal ritual.”

Everyone does, indeed, have to eat – and “Tablescapes” delves into just how we do it. Visitors first encounter the futuristic spirit of the vignette created by Doucet and Ping, where the focus is efficiency and the materials recycled. Next up is a lavish step back in time, an Old World elegance anchored by the surtout de table, created in Paris circa 1805 by sculptor Pierre-Philippe Thomire. The gilded showstopper is believed to have been presented by Napoleon to his stepson. Surrounding objects, including a bronze clock and elaborately decorated porcelains, further add to the luxurious atmosphere. Finally, the exhibition concludes on a playful note in the gallery devoted to the work by Mergentime. The linens for the home focus on tablecloths and napkins decorated with slogans, whimsical drawings and more – a colorful conclusion to the intriguing journey through time.

“Tablescapes: Designs for Dining” continues through April 14. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is open daily at 2 E. 91stSt. (at Fifth Avenue) in Manhattan.

For more, visit

– Mary Shustack

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