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Installation photo of “An Atlas of Es Devlin” at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Photo: Jason Ardizzone-West
Installation photo of “An Atlas of Es Devlin” at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Photo: Jason Ardizzone-West
An Atlas of Es Devlin, Book Cover Box, Photo: Es Devlin Studio

Her designs and flair for grand visual gestures have long made London-based stage designer Es Devlin a legend. She has designed stage spectacles for bands and artists such as the Rolling Stones, U2, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Billie Eilish and Adele, tailoring colour, light, music, symbols and signs to the image of the stars. Devlin was also responsible for the design of the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in London in 2012 and the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She was also Artistic Director of the London Design Biennale in 2021. To create a show that is surprising and unique, Devlin relies on large projections and video walls, expansive stage elements, changing coloured light, cross-fades of the performers with their own image and much more. Not forgetting the temporary participatory sculptures she has choreographed at the Tate Modern, the Serpentine Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum and Trafalgar Square. Just how skilfully she knows how to activate the public is demonstrated by “Come Home Again”, her 16-metre-high monumental choral sculpture in front of the Tate Modern, which attracted more than 7,000 visitors a day in September 2022, who joined together to sing with various London choirs.

Now, for the first time, the celebrated artist and designer is providing insights into her creative process and the archive she has built up over 30 years in a monographic museum exhibition. Entitled „An Atlas of Es Devlin”, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York presents more than 300 sketches, paintings, illuminated paper cuts and rotating miniature sculptures that were the starting point and basis for Devlin’s visually powerful symbioses of music, poetry, art and performance. On show for the first time are small works that have led to large public sculptures and installations dealing with biodiversity, linguistic diversity and AI-generated poetry, as well as moving stage sets for the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet and the National Theatre in London. Also on display are sketches, paintings and cardboard models from which the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, the 2022 NFL Super Bowl halftime show with Dr Dre and Kendrick Lamar, and monumental, illuminated stage sculptures created for Beyoncé, U2, Rosalía and The Weeknd were made. Early sketchbooks, paintings, collages, diaries and prints that Devlin made during her studies and at the beginning of her career round off the panorama. The exhibition design, how could it be otherwise, was created by Es Devlin Studio in collaboration with Pink Sparrow.

“I have,” Devlin says, “spent 30 years translating words into images and spaces – transforming texts into kinetic sculptures that surround the viewer with light and song, changing their perspective through magic. My craft is to imagine worlds that do not yet exist, to invite the audience to move through psychological architectures they have not yet inhabited, and to remind viewers that they are not separate, but connected to each other and to the biosphere. For this exhibition I have brought together the drawings, fragile paper sculptures and small, revolving cardboard models that I and my studio team have made over the last three decades – a parallel miniature world that underpins the large-scale public performance and installation works.”

The book “An Atlas of Es Devlin”, published by Thames & Hudson on the occasion of the exhibition, contains over 900 pages (with fold-outs, cut-outs, reflections and translucent pages) with more than 700 colour illustrations documenting 120 projects from four decades. A text with Devlin’s personal comments on each work as well as interviews with Bono, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brian Eno, Sam Mendes, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Alice Rawsthorn, Carlo Rovelli, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Lyndsey Turner and Pharrell Williams.

„An Atlas of Es Devlin“
18 November 2023 to 11 August 2024
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 East 91st St
New York, NY, 10128, USA

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