To those outside of the design world, the name Stefan Sagmeister sounds like some exotic European men’s name. To those up on design? It is the name of one of the most influential graphic designers currently in the field. Sagmeister is known for his award winning work on album covers and his unique work practice which includes taking a year off from clients every seven years. He’s the kind of person who has defined his life in such a clear, different way that you can’t help but notice and be intrigued by it. People in Los Angeles have come to notice the work of Sagmeister a little more because his work is on display at MOCA’s Pacific Design Center. The resulting exhibit is The Happy Show and it is an explosion of information, interactivity, and happiness. It’s one of those shows that you don’t see but you participate in and leave knowing more about yourself.
The show is setup as an open page in Sagmeister’s very witty diary. He fills the MOCA at PDC space up with art pieces that are connected through notes and sculptural installations that aid in explaining his thought process. Everything has to do with this thought process, which is one that doesn’t revolve around fleeting happiness but revolves around maximizing the amount happiness one can have. He discusses his work with clients and money and food and sex (Lots of sex, actually.) and poses many questions to his viewers.
These questions and advice tidbits are the key to the show. For example, that weird work practice item where he takes a year off from clients: Sagmeister–a comical New Age design spiritual guru in his own light–suggests we all take year long sabbaticals from work instead of banking our sabbatical for retirement because who wants to spend twenty years (or less) doing nothing? He is of the mindset to have the most fun now and to enjoy everything you can while you can. His work pushes you to do the same thing by illustrating how and when and why we have sex, facts that are illustrated through graphs and may or may not actually be true, and even making viewers engage with him by taking a candy or drawing a picture or even riding a bike or smiling in order to engage art pieces.
There is a very homey feel to The Happy Show. This is because Sagmeister is a very thorough artist and leaves practically no space in the museum untouched. Everything is annotated and commented on, resulting in a comical stream-of-consciousness open diary. Even the bathroom has handwritten surprises! You move through the show slowly to capture every little thing he has done and you cannot help but feel like you are missing something, like the artist has hidden a very important piece or work from you that you have yet to discover. The Happy Show is one of those art experiences you don’t want to leave because it is so lush and active and, ironically, more like walking through a website than walking through a museum. It’s a very contemporary show.(And illustrates that design is the new “It” topic in art museums.)
The most pleasantly surprising part of this show was that it was absolutely packed. There were families and couples and loners all taking in the show and it was an experience that felt like a small community of strangers were brought together because of the Sagmeister Thought Process. Even though you won’t talk to other people at the show, you certainly do feel bonded in this strange euphoria Sagmeister brings to you. The Happy Show is an absolute delight and is certainly a show that you have to see in Los Angeles because there isn’t anything else as engaging and thorough and fun and playfully experimental as this show. All intellectual veils have been lifted to make a show that all types of people can interact with. Then again, that’s probably just how the Sagmeister brain works.
MOCA PDC is open Tuesday through Sunday and The Happy Show is on view through June 9. Admission is free–yes, FREE–and you can get more information on the show here.