Yes yes, I've said it before and I will keep saying it: Stefan Sagmeister is one of the best contemporary artists. Sagmeister blends the wonder of new technology (a machine that can detect, measure and control video projections through your smile), the best parts of interactive art (a system rigged up that you put quarters into which are then deposited into a bin outside on the sidewalk, free money for the taking!), a preternatural sense of design, the complexity (and boom) of typography, an exploration of the link between science, art and humanity (always drawing from tons of varied resources)...o, and, like a true design/ad man, he knows exactly what the people want: there is oftentimes candy! I feel like I've been slowly following his work around the country; a gallery show here, a piece in a museum in Chicago, a public art piece in Kentucky, continuously running into his hand on album covers and the like, but I had never seen an entire museum dedicated to his work until a trip to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, PA this week!! The Happy Show is part museum exhibit part museum takeover as the artist (and his collaborators) seek to explore what happiness is. Or isn't. Or if it is even a thing. Can we control it? Can we become more happy? Is happiness just endorphins spinning around our brains? Or a series of cognitive behaviors we can improve upon? A manufactured state of mind? An expression?
As you walk around the ICA there are scribblings and scrawlings made by hand, by Sagmeister, everywhere. Facts, jokes, observations, drawings on elevators, over Exit signs- everything a discovery and everything dissolving the boundaries of the white walled gallery and engulfing you in a sense of someone else's mind, the mark of any true artist! The immersion aspect of this show is especially interesting to me given the fact that Sagmeister's work is all very form oriented. Highly designed contemporary art shows tend to a coldness as the form molds to something austere with little function or obvious message but, in Sagmeister's case, the form is the conveyor of all things, of information, space, states of being and even smiles-- he can connect a room to the viewer unlike any other artist! In relation to this idea, Sagmeister's advertising background is also used as a decisive conveyor of meaning here too...able to guide, manipulate and explore a concept using the tools of the ad man (color, shape, messages, leading you through a maze of desires), a real reclamation of a (potentially negative) set of guidelines but here used as a thoughtful good through art!
Exhibition Note: The Happy Show will be traveling around to various museums in the near future and the culmination is to be a feature length experimental documentary titled The Happy Film that follows Sagmeister as he develops an understanding of "happy," a twelve minute clip from the film is on view in the show, a short trailer is embedded here!