Meet the Ambitious Young Curator Shaking Up Contemporary Design
Early American streetwear, playtime design, experimental Native American craft—all are disparate subjects that Alexandra Cunningham Cameron has contextualized and made fresh over the course of the past 15-odd years. In her current role as contemporary design curator at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, in New York, she spends her days interpreting the museum’s existing collection and expanding the canon of design through new acquisitions.
Her path to the Cooper Hewitt was a nontraditional one. She came to the museum in 2018 not with a Ph.D. but from the arts publication Miami Rail, where she served as editor in chief. She had previously been the creative director of Design Miami and an independent curator of shows at contemporary art museums across the United States. During that time she threw her considerable weight behind public art commissions with artists like Dozie Kanu and the design firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero. “I think there is something to be said for bringing together many different types of people with diverse experience and seeing what happens with that dialogue,” says Cunningham Cameron.
Her first show at the museum, Willi Smith: Street Couture, opened right as lockdown began in 2020. The exhibition spurred something of an overdue renaissance for the brilliant, previously overlooked Black American designer whose namesake sportswear line, Willi Wear, was an exacting fusion of grace and accessibility. “Alexandra understood that Willi’s impact on culture was much more important than the clothing itself,” says Paper magazine founder Kim Hastreiter, a friend of Smith’s. “Her work is totally out of the box and executed with a deep care for cultural context.”
Next up for Cunningham Cameron is the Cooper Hewitt’s design triennial, in 2024, which she is co-curating alongside Michelle Joan Wilkinson and Christina L. De León. “We are at the beginning of discovering what role museums can play in broader cultural production,” she says. “They are serious institutions of course, but they are also a space for play.”
This story originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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