Esperanza Spalding Selects is the 15th installation of Cooper Hewitt’s Selects exhibition series in which designers, artists, architects, and public figures are invited to examine and interpret the museum’s collection of more than 210,000 objects. Musician and four-time Grammy Award-winner Esperanza Spalding creates thought-provoking juxtapositions of collection objects to show how material evolves into different forms as new designers adapt it for their own locales and cultural functions; expanding on concepts Spalding investigated in the making of her groundbreaking 2016 album Emily’s D+Evolution.
Through her curation of nearly 40 drawings, prints, textiles, jewelry, and furniture, as well as works from the Smithsonian Design Library, Spalding explores how design—like music—both evolves and devolves in the process of transforming.
Four pieces of music Spalding recorded with pianist and composer Leonardo Genovese exclusively for the exhibition play in the gallery: a classic performance drawn from sheet music for “Love Songs of the Nile” selected from the Smithsonian Design Library, an improvised interpretation of the same song, a variation for bass and voice, and a re-arrangement of all three of these recordings electronically sequenced into a new composition. Spalding also enlisted Megan McGeorge, whose nonprofit “Piano. Push. Play.” restores unwanted pianos and places them in public for people to play, and Robert Petty, of ZGF Architects, to create four deconstructed pianos that have been reformed to respond to the theme of transformation.