At New Cooper Hewitt, a Room of Maira Kalman’s Own

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An installation view of Maira Kalman Selects at the newly reopened Cooper Hewitt and Kalman’s illustration of Andrew Carnegie’s music room. (Photo: Matt Flynn, courtesy Cooper Hewitt)

The wait is over: today at the stroke of 11 a.m. the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum reopens its meticulously restored doors to the public, revealing the results of a four-year, $91 million expansion. Among the first of ten inaugural exhibitions and installations that visitors will encounter is the exquisitely presented Maira Kalman Selects, in which the author, artist, and designer has brought together 40 objects from the Cooper Hewitt, other Smithsonian institutions, and her own personal collection in a presentation that is at turns haunting and whimsical.

Ranging from calligraphy samplers and a stepladder to Gerrit Rietveld‘s Zig Zag chair (“He took things to their elemental line,” says Kalman of the Dutch designer. “He was rigorous–but had a sense of humor.”) and lemon-hued leather slippers from 1830 that give Dorothy’s ruby pair a run for their money, the artifacts suggest the moments in a life, from birth (a vintage edition of Winnie the Pooh) to death (Lincoln’s funeral pall). The piano in the corner is a nod to the the high-ceilinged yet intimate space’s origins as Andrew Carnegie‘s music room, and a tasseled ribbon points like an arrow to a pair of striped pants resting on the piano bench. Encouraging a second look is a small white placard, lettered in Kalman’s distinctively dreamy handwriting: “Kindly refrain from touching the piano and Toscanini‘s pants.” Bravo, Maira.