"Stefan Sagmeister is a pop star"... exalts Mieke Gerritzen, an Austrian graphic designer who is Sagmeisters friend and opposite number, when describing him in an article appearing in the exhibition catalogue. Indeed, best known for his CD box sets for David Byrne, Bryan Eno, Talking Heads, Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones (for which he earned several Grammy Awards), Sagmeister is happy to set up actual performances to produce the print design of his projects. Whether it be composing sentences with letters carried around the world by bit players for a TV commercial, or asking the public to spell out a gigantic slogan with letters made up of Euro cents (in Amsterdam), or even having a posters wording carved into his own torso and with a razor blade, Stefan Sagmeister always comes up with staging that revolves around the language he has chosen to compose. He is at ease applying self-derision as much to his commissioned pieces as to his more personal projects.
In the wake of shows featuring the likes of Matali Grasset, Martí Guixé and Yves Béhar, the mudac
-in what is the 11th carte blanche exhibition- presents the work of this Austrian artist who resides in New York. Exhibition from March 9th through June 13th, 2011. And as always, a major publication complements this edition of the series.
An agitator within the consumer society
In Lausanne, this enfant terrible of the graphic design world presents only projects commissioned by clients, rather than autonomously created works. All have to do with selling or promoting products. The various exhibition catalogues, record sleeves, posters and advertisements on display represent a broad spectrum of graphic design as conceived by Sagmeister. The exhibition is divided into four parts reflecting the categories Sagmeister distinguishes among his commissions: the promotion of culture, the promotion of companies, the promotion of his friends and, finally, his self-promotion as linked to his agency, Sagmeister Inc. His manner of dissecting the constraints imposed by our consumer society on his work is imbued with humor and greatest honesty. At a time when art and design seem to have a great deal in common, the graphic designer reminds us here of how real his ties to the commercial world are, enabling him, unlike many artists, to comfortably integrate that world into his relexive and off-beat approach.
We could almost think of him in terms of a personality trait for which certain Austrian artists are well known, namely criticism as a way of proceeding. Thomas Bernhard, Hermann Nitsch and Otto Muehl all untiringly question the context in which they live and work. More exactly, Sagmeisters frequent work with the physical body is also element one could also relate to performance art and Vienna Actionism the radical Austrian art movement of the 1960s and 70s that spilled forth so much ink and blood. Indeed, action often drives many of his projects. For a lighting fixtures company he came up with an Annual Report cover thermoformed in white relief, which was then photographed several times under differing flattering lighting solutions by the same firm. To stimulate awareness of disparities in the budgetary choices made by the American government, he created a double bus comprising two yellow school buses stuck together back-to-back. On its way across the land, his hybrid vehicle aroused much media attention, thus benefitting the NGOs cause more than any costly advertising campaign.
For the GGG-DDD (2003) poster promoting two shows of his work in Japan, he did a play on the classic before-and-after comparison: the top picture shows the designer in his underwear and weighing 178 pounds; the bottom picture shows him a week later and having gained 25 pounds after eating all the food articles depicted. His critique of the consumer society involved physical torture to himself as an artist, thereby having him pay doubly with his own person for his self-promotion. Although he once carved the texts for another self-promotion poster into his own body, his slipcase for Things I have learned in my life so far (2009) is in a more poetic vein: it features a photograph of his face which he has cut into an openwork portrait atop the slipcase, through which the variously designed unbound signature pamphlets constituting the boxed set appear. Every change in the order of the pamphlets gives the artist a different face. Deconstruction or loss crop up in several of this designers projects. In a poster for Levis, he literally shredded a pair of jeans before piecing it back together again. His installation for Deitch Project was a declamatory slogan in the form of a giant wall in a mosaic of green and yellow bananas these ended up rotting during the exhibition, rendering the message increasingly illegible. In order to avoid getting bogged down by his professional commitments, Sagmeister regularly schedules sabbaticals for himself an agenda that partly explains why he was obliged to refuse to work on Obamas 2008 presidential campaign.