Message from the Director

In the decade or so since Virginia Postrel made her groundbreaking case for design in the book The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness (2003), her argument for the economic value of design has become a twenty-firstcentuxy truism. Nowhere is this more of an axiom than in Silicon Valley, where design is the competitive backbone of the consumer technology industry and design thinking is now standard protocol across sectors—embraced even in K-12 classrooms. Whether you are a millennial connoisseur of the latest wearable techno gadget or a boomer aficionado of radical fashion, chances are you share a like admiration for aesthetic elegance, no matter the media: the moment of delight that the manifestation of creative genius or of brilliant beauty gives us. As Postural (formerly an economic and cultural columnist for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Wall Street Journal) wrote, “Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.”

This “renaissance attitude” of cuttingedge design permeates SJMA’s fall exhibition, Beauty—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, wherein designers know no bounds and cross over disciplines with freewheeling inventiveness. The only exhibition of its kind in the United States, organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s esteemed national design museum, Beauty is an international invitational project that brings to Silicon Valley audiences independent and unexpected works gleaned from studios across the globe. Ranging from clothing that changes color with the air temperature to digitally printed glass lamps made by pioneering designers at MIT’s Media Lab, Beauty reveals one surprise after the next.

SJMA is bringing the triennial to the West Coast for the very first time. Here, where design of many sorts is part of our regional zeitgeist, we hope you will come “see what you think” when beauty, fantasy, wit, and renegades come to play in the design equation. Beauty lets you re-imagine the role design can have in your everyday life and the pleasures it can offer. It will inspire your mind as well as your senses.


Susan Krane
Oshman Executive Director