Saturated explores the elusive, complex phenomenon of color perception and how it has captivated artists, designers, scientists, and sages. Featuring over 190 objects spanning antiquity to the present from the extraordinary collections of Smithsonian Libraries and Cooper Hewitt, the exhibition reveals how designers apply the theories of the world’s greatest color thinkers to bring order and excitement to the visual world.
More than three dozen magnificent and rare books from the Smithsonian Libraries are installed throughout the exhibition, emphasizing the ongoing theoretical and practical discourse on color. Illustrated with spheres, cones, grids, wheels, and other graphic means for organizing color’s hues and harmonies, the works include texts written by designers, naturalists, and chemists, as well as some of the most important color treatises of the Enlightenment, such as Sir Isaac Newton’s 1704 Opticks and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1810 Theory of Colors. Also on view, a very rare surviving volume of Jacob Christophe Le Blon’s 1725 Coloritto, the first book to document the mixing of primary colors to create secondary colors that became the foundation of modern color printing.
To show how these findings have been realized and advanced by designers, objects from all four curatorial departments present a globally and stylistically diverse installation of iconic, experimental, and vernacular design. The works of color innovators, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Massimo Vignelli, and Hella Jongerius, demonstrate design’s continuing investigation of new materials, technologies, and techniques, while recent acquisitions for the collection point to future directions. Saturated also investigates color’s relationship with music, camouflage, and advances in color reproduction, highlighting its importance to everything from philosophy to mass communication. Visually and intellectually stimulating, Saturated expands awareness of our deeply personal and rewarding relationship with color.