GETTING HAPPY WITH STEFAN SAGMEISTER
Have a look at some snapshots of The Happy Show, the traveling exhibition in which one of the world's most celebrated communication designers, Stefan Sagmeister went on the search for happiness, and which can currently be seen at the MAAT in Lisbon. This week, Sagmeister is also one of the more than 100 speakers at and&, a one of a kind summit & festival in Louvain, Belgium, exploring the impact of health, tech & creativity on future city life, and each other.
Sagmeister and me have at least one thing in common: the late Tibor Kalman is our one and only design hero. And walking through The Happy Show, which got its kick off at the Institute of Contemporary Art's (ICA), University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and -following venues in North America, Paris, Vienna, Frankfurt am Main,and Zürich- is currently on show at the Museum ofArt, Architecture and Technology MAAT in Lisbon, one can still feel Kalman's presence in every detail. It was Kalman who spoke the immortal words: „Good Design Makes Trouble.“ And it hardly comes as a surprise Sagmeister's definition of good design only reads as a variant on that: "Design that needed guts from the creator and still carries the ghost of these guts in the final execution." Seen from that perspective, The Happy Show is a wonderfully designed exhibition.
Sagmeister has made a career of sidestepping conventions, in favor of roguishly fashioned, provocative work that goes far beyond design functionality
A continuing struggle to translate Utopia into daily life has always defined this city’s history
FLESH & BLOOD-
Born in Bregenz, Austria, in 1962, and living and working in New York, Sagmeister has made a career of sidestepping conventions, in favor of roguishly fashioned, provocative work that goes far beyond design functionality, blending typography and imagery in striking, fresh, ambitious, and unsettling ways. He is best known for his album covers for Talking Heads, Lou Reed, OK Go, The Rolling Stones, Jay Z, Aerosmith, and Pat Metheny, to name only a few, as well as innovative campaigns for companies like Levis, that have entered the public (un)consciousness. Yet, the one work that made him instantly world famous will remain that poster that showed an announcement which he had cut in his own flesh and blood.
With such street-credentials, it took some guts to do an exhibition that simply tried to answer questions as What is happiness? How to find it? What do we really do to be happy? Or: Can happiness be trained? -and to present these answers in such a seemingly naive, very Kalman-like humorous, playful, intimate, personal, candid and almost childlike manner. Sagmeister, who closes his New York studio once every seven years for an extended break, embarked on a personal search for happiness and carried out various experiments on himself in order to find out the most effective way of increasing his individual sense of happiness. He tried meditation, concentration and relaxation techniques, underwent cognitive behavioural therapy and took mood elevators. The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into Stefan Sagmeister's mind through these experiments. He processed his ten years of research in highly emotional and partly handwritten informational graphics, fascinating headlines, prints, amusingly instructive videos, films, interactive, installations and sculptures.
Testing the boundary between art and design, or science and everyday culture, and against a bold background of black and yellow, his works flood the exhibition flour and also spill over into the building’s lifts, ramps and service rooms.creating an all-encompassing transgressing experience challenging the boundaries of the exhibition space. From hand-drawn missives on bathroom mirrors and elevator doors to giant inflated monkeys,Sagmeister has attacked the theme methodically, picking apart the notion of happiness just as he deconstructed, thread by thread, a pair of Levi’s for a 2009 poster.
Seductively visual but content-heavy, ‘The Happy Show’ begs close exploration. Filled with many pithy, diary-extracted maxims from his book Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far, experiential twists and physical take-aways await the visitor at every turn. Chocolates, gum, a wall slot dispensing advice cards, and even a bicycle, which, when pedaled, generates segments of a neon wall message: ‘Actually Doing the Things I Set Out to Do Increases My Overall Level of Satisfaction’ – all contribute to a immersive experience. Wall graphics are accompanied by a bank of gumball machines, each representing a different numeric happiness scale and topped with tall transparent tanks of bright yellow balls. The piece is an evolving, real-life infographic in itself, in that it will eventually reveal the self-reported happiness levels of visitors as the volume in each machine visibly diminishes.
The Happy Show also confronts us with the designer's perspective on how we could be happier. – including the idea that it can be trained, just like we train our body. To contextualize his typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, that appear throughout the exhibition, and that were originally culled from his diary, he has gathered the social data of Harvard psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Steven Pinker, psychologist Jonathan Haidt, anthropologist Donald Symons, and several prominent historians, detailing the role of age, gender, race, money, and other factors that determine happiness.
Sagmeister studied graphic design at the University of Applied Arts Viennna, and later received a scholarship to study at the Pratt Institute in New York. In 1991, he moved to Hong Kong to work with Leo Burnett's Design Group. In 1993, he returned to New York to work with Tibor Kalman. His tenure there was short lived, as Kalman soon decided to retire from the design business to edit Colors magazine for Benetton in Italy. Sagmeister proceeded to form the New York based Sagmeister Inc. In 1993, and co-founded Sagmeister & Walsh Inc. with Jessica Walsh in 2012. Several years ago he decided to dedicate 25% of his work to the art world, things like books and publications for galleries, another 25% to the scientific community, 25% to social causes, and the remaining quarter has stayed dedicated to the music. We probably eat avocado more than you do – says his website, and maybe that could be their secret. Stefan Sagmeister The Happy Show was orginally organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, and curated by Claudia Gould,currently Helen Goldsmith Menschel Director at Jewish Museum, New York.
The exhibition at Maat runs until June 4. And at the and& summit and festival, Sagmeister discusses the Future of Tech & Beauty & arts with Chris Dercon, Andrew Keen, and Lisbeth Limbo. More info: