“Colour has been studied for centuries and yet there is still much to learn about its properties,” says Caroline Baumann, director of New York’s Cooper Hewitt design museum, where an exhibition on “the elusive, complex phenomenon of colour perception” is on view until January. It’s an especially timely show. Called Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color, the exhibition explores what can be achieved when artists, designers, scientists and philosophers experiment and innovate with colour. The curators would have had plenty to draw on over the past while alone.
Explorations of colour – particularly its reflective, refractive and inflective qualities – has driven some of the most innovative design of late and promises to continue doing so. Unveiled last year, Seoul-based Studio Orijeen’s Color Flow cabinets, for instance, feature lenticular surfaces that change colour depending on the observer’s position and movement, while Patricia Urquiola’s Slinkie rugs for CC-Tapis consist of helical spirals in graduating shades of colour; the latter’s shapes are drawn digitally, allowing every rug to assume a different tonal pattern.
One of the past year’s most innovative spectral experiments is the late artist Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, his final work and only edifice: a 252-square-metre, double-barrel-vaulted structure constructed next to the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Conceived decades ago but not built until late in Kelly’s life, the white limestone building features three facades punctuated by stained-glass windows arranged in various configurations. When light passes through the windows, shimmering flashes of colour dance on the floors and ceilings, giving onlookers the sensation of being inside a prism or kaleidoscope.
For Kelly, colour and light were physical materials, like limestone and glass. They’re now transfixing a new generation of creatives with equal intensity.