Cooper Hewitt Response

Cooper Hewitt Response 

Background History

The Cooper Hewitt museum was founded in 1896, an initial creation of the granddaughters of magnate Peter Cooper, Sarah Cooper Hewitt, Eleanor Garnier Hewitt and Amy Hewitt Green.

In 1898 Andrew Carnegie purchased the land and he build a mansion from 1899 to 1902. Carnegie also build this mansion to manage the philanthropic projects that he would dedicate the final decades of his life after his retirement in 1901.

In 1967, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum became part of the Smithsonian Institution. (The Smithsonian Institution is a group of museums and research centers administered by the US government.)

The Cooper Hewitt was founded as a educational guide for the world of design, aimed at educating the public, especially students. As ‘the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to historical and contemporary design’, we can see that the building itself, from its ornately designed corbels to its decorative exterior, this building is an example of Neo-Georgian and Renaissance revival styles that were popular during the development of the construction of the Upper East Side.

The Object I Chose

Infinity Burial Suit, 2008- ongoing Burial Suit, 2019; Organic cotton, wood, biomaterial illustration, Stages of Spore Growth and Decomposition, 2019; Digital print; All courtesy of Jae Rhim Lee, Coeio, Inc. Jae Rhim Lee (Korean, born 1975), Coeio (Mountain View, California, USA, founded 2015) with Daniel Silverstein (American, born 1989) Jae Rhim Lee’s design for a customized cotton burial suit is an alternative to current funerary options such as cremation and casket burial. The suit contains a built-in mix of proprietary materials and mycelia (fungal threads) that fruit into mushrooms. This “biomix” absorbs and eliminates toxins that are emitted from the body into the soil and aids in decomposition.

Art Work Response

In first place, I was very interested in this piece because I never thought of taking care of a body after someone dies. I did some research afterwards and I liked the Infinity Burial Suit because currently everyone is aware that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels to make electricity and transportation engines. However, I didn’t realise how much pollution is made with creation and casket burial after people die, and approximately one person dies every second in the world. 

Apart from helping a body decompose, this piece also helps the environment which is a feature that  that many artworks in the museum had. The Infinity Burial Suit ‘Cleanses the body and soil of toxins that would otherwise seep into the environment.’ and’Delivers nutrients from body to surrounding plant roots efficiently.’ The Suits ‘Are made of all natural, biodegradable material’ and ‘Use no harsh chemicals, preservatives, or processing.’ As we can see, the design and purpose of this piece is eco-friendly and through this piece we can also see the purpose of the museum, the new way of art, they want to teach new generations to care for the environment we live in.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland. After moving to the United States, he worked a series of railroad jobs. By 1889 he owned Carnegie Steel Corporation, the largest of its kind in the world.

In 1901, Carnegie sold his business to the United States Steel Corporation, started by legendary financier J.P. Morgan. The sale earned him more than $200 million. At the age of 65, Carnegie decided to spend the rest of his days helping others. With his strong interest to peace, he formed the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1910.He made numerous other donations, and it is said that more than 2,800 libraries were opened with his support.
Carnegie also wrote several books and numerous articles. His 1889 article “Wealth” outlined his view that those with great wealth must be socially responsible and use their assets to help others. This was later published as the 1900 book ‘The Gospel of Wealth’.

The Gospel of Wealth

To understand ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ I had to learn about the Industrial Revolution that happened from the late 1700s to mid-1800s. This event industrialised the manufacture of textiles and began the move of production from homes to factories. Because of this revolution, educated and smart businessmen were getting richer and richer. However, this also meant that all the money and power was concentrated in this small group of rich people, which also meant that the division of rich and poor was getting wider and wider. The rich were very rich and the poor were very poor, and this was something that Carnegie wanted to change. He believed that men like him had to distribute their wealth to benefit society. In ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ he states that rich people like him should contribute to society economically while they are alive, specifically. Traditionally, there were two ways in which money is distributed after one person dies. The first one is the most common one which leaves the money to their family and the second one is leaving it for public purposes. He suggested that neither of them were the right option. He didn’t like rich people like him leaving the money to family, ofter to their heirs which would squander the money unwisely and he didn’t like the money to be left for public purposes as they can’t guarantee that the money would be administrated well by others. He highlights the fact that these rich businessmen are wiser than anyone else as they already made all that fortune. He suggest that they should be the ones using their intelligence to distribute that money.

In my opinion, I believe that Carnegie was intelligent enough to know that economic equality will never be a thing. People might donate their money for the benefit of society but they will never donate to the extent that would make them lower their economic class because the rich want to preserve their economic status. Just like Carnegie did, he did distribute a lot money to improve society but he was still rich. He would never donate his money to the extent that would make him become a middle class businessman.I think that ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ was written as a statement for his public image and I base this opinion on the fact that he got himself a mansion to dedicate his time to the philanthropic projects after his retirement. I don’t think there was a need for such an enormous house for his projects to take place. If fact, I think the whole purpose of his mansion was to show people the good things he was doing and he wanted everyone to know by building this huge mansion with its philanthropic purposes.

Comparing Carnegie’s mansion with the Tenement House

The argument that I previously made questioning Carnegie’s need to build a mansion with philanthropic purposes can be explained in these two fist images of the exterior of Carnegie’s Mansion and a Tenement Building. He argues about money distribution and spending it wisely but I don’t think he shouldn’t be arguing that, having such a big mansion.In addition to that, if he was so worried about spending the money wisely while being alive, I also want to argue that the inside decoration of his mansion was also an unnecessary expense. He is also against the way that rich people were making the economic division getting wider but we can clearly see that he is part of making that division. He clearly makes that division by stating how wealthy he is though his mansion.

Carnegie’s Mansion and Tenement House



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