This exhibition was on display from October 01, 2022 to January 29, 2023.

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In Western architecture and design, the term “ornament” refers to purely decorative embellishment, compelling patterns and motifs that add visual interest to whatever they adorn. As with any art form, different styles of ornament go in and out of fashion, responding to popular tastes and trends. In late 18th-century Britain, innovative architects and designers, energized by archaeological discoveries at sites like Pompeii, embraced a neoclassical style that employed ornament inspired by artifacts from ancient Greece and Rome. This exhibition showcases fanciful drawings and prints by Michel Angelo Pergolesi (died 1801), an Italian-born artist whose professional specialty, in his words, was “the ornaments of the ancients.” In the early 1760s, Pergolesi moved to London, England, where he helped popularize a visual vocabulary of elegant, airy decoration inflected with the art of antiquity that came to define British neoclassicism. Today, the best representation of his work is found in New York City: drawings and prints held at Cooper Hewitt and the Morgan Library & Museum show how Pergolesi transformed ancient relics—what he called “curious things”—into charming decorative motifs. Although his name is now largely forgotten, these rarely seen works call attention to Pergolesi’s legacy, to the Beaux-Arts neoclassical decoration of Cooper Hewitt’s historic mansion (built 1897–1902), and to the ways in which ornament of all kinds enlivens our built environment.

Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things: Ornament in 18th-Century Britain is made possible with generous support from the Marks Family Foundation Endowment Fund.

This exhibition is organized by Julia Siemon, Assistant Curator of Drawings, Prints & Grpahic Design.

Exhibition design by Field Guide Architecture. Graphic design by Kelly Sung.

We are thankful to all who directly or indirectly made this exhibition possible.

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