8 eye-popping design exhibits to see this summer

The Cooper Hewitt, SF MoMA, and Vitra Design Museum all have exhibitions worth checking out.

8 eye-popping design exhibits to see this summer
[Images (left to right): Bettina Matthiessen/© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021/© Vitra Design Museum, The Wolfsonian–FIU/Miami Beach, FL/The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection/courtesy Poster House, Matt Flynn/© The Original I.P. LLC/courtesy Cooper Hewitt]

Memorial Day is in the rearview mirror, which means summer is about to be in full swing. After a year of staying mostly home and indoors, it’s time to dive back into culture.


Here are some of the best exhibits to see as museums around the world reopen.

Julius Klinger, Münchener Faschings-Redoute (Munich Carnival Masked Ball), 1914. [Image: The Wolfsonian–FIU/Miami Beach, FL/The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection/courtesy Poster House]

Julius Klinger: Posters for a Modern Age

The Austrian-born designer Julius Klinger had a prolific career, working as a typographer, illustrator, graphic designer, and poster designer over decades. Klinger taught advanced poster design at the New School in New York, and spent most of his career living and working in Germany and Austria before he and his wife were deported to an extermination camp near Minsk and killed in 1942.

This extensive exhibition offers a firsthand look at the breadth of his portfolio and how his work shaped early 20th century visual culture. “He understood the power of modern trademarks and logos to give identity to major businesses … and was a leading figure in shaping the look of major brands,” according to the museum organizers.


On view at Poster House until August 15.

[Photo: Matt Flynn/© The Original I.P. LLC/courtesy Cooper Hewitt]

Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints that Made the Fashion Brand

You’re likely familiar with Lilly Pulitzer’s bright floral dresses. But you probably don’t know the textile designer behind them, Suzie Zuzek. The exhibition includes original watercolor and gouache paintings, finished screen-printed textiles, and the fashion designs that made them iconic, according to the organizers.

This exhibition celebrating her work was originally supposed to launch last year, but was delayed due to the pandemic. And with spring turning into summer, there’s no better time to see her illustrations bloom on the page.


On view at Cooper Hewitt, from June 10 until January 22, 2022.

Robert Blackburn & Modern American Printmaking

This exhibition includes more than 75 works that celebrate the career of Harlem-raised artist and printmaker Robert Blackburn. Blackburn founded the Printmaking Workshop in New York City in 1947 as a place for artists to learn and work on printmaking and lithography. He also taught at numerous design schools, including Cooper Union, NYU, Columbia, and the School of Visual Arts in New York City. This exhibition “celebrates both the artist and the democratic and diverse creative community he developed,” according to the organizers.

On view at the Detroit Institute of Arts until September 5.

[Photo: courtesy Design Museum London]

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street

Converse. Air Jordans. Comme des Garçons. Sneakers, once reserved for kicking around in, have become highly coveted, highly regarded, and high fashion. What’s the back story to the sneaker phenomenon? This exhibition digs into the details of how sneakers became a $79 billion industry, with shoes from Asics to Air Jordans.

On view at the Design Museum London until October 22.

[Photo: Bettina Matthiessen/© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021/© Vitra Design Museum]

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Celebrity Culture of Paris

The famed French poster designer and printmaker used what the Art Institute of Chicago refers to as a “relatively new advertising medium of large scale posters” to capture the cabarets and nightlife of the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. His distinctive depictions of dancers like Jean Avril helped catapult them to fame, and made him famous in the process too.


Try to get to this one quickly—it’s on view at the Art Institute of Chicago but closes June 6.

Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance

Blocky pastel colors, abstract squiggles and shapes. The Memphis design movement was one of the biggest to emerge from the 1980s, in which designers like Ettore Sottsass went beyond functionalism and wholeheartedly embraced the idea that more was more. It just so happens that it’s also one of the biggest design trends of 2021.

On view at the Vitra Design Museum in Denmark until January 23, 2022.

Nam June Paik, Sistine Chapel, 1993/2019 (installation view, SFMOMA), courtesy the Estate of Nam June Paik. [Photo: Andria Lo/© Estate of Nam June Paik/courtesy SFMOMA]

Nam June Paik

This retrospective of the experimental multimedia artist includes over 200 of his works. Paik was the first to coin the phrase “electronic superhighway,” describing future internet communication, and fully embraced technology in his work. Paik used video, TV screens, motion, and sound to create a body of work that SF MoMA calls “profoundly radical.”

On view at SF MoMA until October 3.

Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life

The work of the pioneering modern furniture designer, who worked with famed industrial design studio Le Corbusier in the 1920s and went on to have an extensive career of her own, is showcased in this exhibition. It includes fully recreated interiors, sketches, photographs, prototypes, and, of course, furniture. Perriand believed “architecture should meet human needs, and as far back as the 1920s she designed open-plan interiors to make sure women didn’t feel trapped in their homes,” according to the Design Museum. Perriand applied “radical principles to furniture design,” according to the museum, which you can see on full display here.


On view at the Design Museum London until September 5.


About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.