Skip to content

Maira Kalman Selects 

Start Date 12 December 2014
End Date 07 June 2015
Venue Cooper Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Design Museum
Location New York, USA
Curator Maira Kalman

For this exhibition, author, artist, and designer Maira Kalman fills the former first-floor Drawing Room of the Carnegie Mansion, with 40 objects from Cooper Hewitt, the National Museum of American History, and her personal collection to suggest the journey of a life story, from birth through death.

Kalman is best known for her whimsical take on modern life. Here, she explores the human condition, presenting objects that create a picture of daily life as she sees it and lives it.

In her words, the exhibition is about “falling in love with a group of objects”; “the preciousness of time”; and the realization that “many of the most important memories in your life will be populated by the most seemingly unimportant objects. A chair. A bowl.”

And what does she suggest you do when you enter the exhibition? Just look. And listen. “To wander about in a room in a museum and to have the fluttery feeling of discovery and potential,” she says, “is a great feeling.”

Two new books authored and illustrated by Kalman complement the exhibition: My Favorite Things includes 50 images—some drawings, some photographs—based on the objects she selected for the exhibition, while the illustrations in the ABC book Ah–Ha to Zig–Zag celebrate thirty-one objects from Cooper Hewitt’s collection.

Some of the items on view include:

• Stockings, shoes, a hat, a teapot, samplers, and porcelain figures of ballet dancers
• Vintage editions of Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh
• The Gerrit Rietfeld Zig Zag chair (ca. 1934) and handkerchief memorializing Queen Victoria
• Abraham Lincoln’s funeral pall and gold pocket watch

Recorded sounds of the ticking pocket watch, which a master watchmaker repaired and briefly returned to working order, can be heard in the gallery.


This room contains objects I chose from Cooper Hewitt’s collection and several I borrowed from the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, along with a few of my own sprinkled in.

What is this room about?

Very loosely, it is about life and death.

But isn’t everything?

It is about falling in love with a group of objects. About the ephemera of history with bits of information about how people lived. It is a room that recognizes that many of the most important memories in your life will be populated by the most seemingly unimportant objects.

A chair. A bowl.

It is about the preciousness of time. Elusive. Fragile. The unpredictability of it all. The comfort derived within the unpredictability. The joy derived from comfort. These objects are brave and beautiful. They have survived and are here to tell you something.

What should you do here?

If you are plagued with doubts or troubles, or are in need of a respite, just sit there and stare into space and listen to the silence. That is more than enough.

Or maybe someone will come into the room and sing a song about a spoon. Any songs you hear, about spoons or otherwise, are composed by the brilliant Nico Muhly. You never know. This was, in fact, once the music room in the mansion, when people lived here and had arguments in the kitchen (perhaps about overcooked peas).

If you are curious, have a look at the objects.

To wander about in a room in a museum is to have the fluttery feeling of discovery and potential. A quickening of the pulse. That is a great feeling. Excitement! Inspiration!

But my advice is not to think too much.

Unless it pleases you.

And a walk in Central Park might be the perfect finale to a day in a museum.’

Maira Kalman