The Senses: Design Beyond Vision
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City, through Oct. 28
Entering the home or workplace of the future could be magical—“like walking into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,” said Shaye Weaver and Cory Oldweiler in amNY.com. That’s the dream invoked by the Cooper Hewitt museum’s current show on design that addresses the four senses we usually take for granted. Scratch the cherry-print wallpaper and you smell fresh cherries. Rub a patch of synthetic fur and you hear music. Recline in the right chair and you’ll swear you’ve toppled into a tub of Jell-O. It’s all fun stuff, but the exhibition also offers “a wealth of important, real-world ideas.” The visually impaired could surely use the 3-D map of Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution that talks when you touch it. Doctors and nurses working amid the harmonious sounds of Man Made Music’s heart and brain monitors are expected to provide better patient care.
A bigger theme is at play, too, said Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times. Going back to caveman days, we humans have been a highly sight-dependent species, allowing our other senses to wither. That’s a real loss. Sight allows us to gather information at a remove; “by contrast, sounds vibrate inside us; smells inhabit us,” and touch “tethers us to the world.” So you don’t have to have a disability to benefit from design that engages those senses. Even an air freshener that emits fragrances named “Surfside” and “Central Park” can enhance the experience of living. So enjoy the musical fur and giggle at the vibrating chairs in the Seated Catalogue of Feelings. And when you leave, don’t let your world collapse back into sight dependency. As this show reminds us, “we have taken leave of our nonvisual senses—and need to get back in touch, literally.”