Mudac…Stefan Sagmeister…

Yesterday, being the first Saturday of the month was free museum day in Lausanne for most museums. So the hubby and I decided to go to mudac and to Musée historique de Lausanne but… unfortunately did not have time to go and see the Roman villa in Vidy.  However, we got to enjoy some choral singing at Palais Rumine and at the cathedral also for free… but this is for another entry lah. For this one, the hubby again offered to write on my behalf about our trip to mudac… so he received carte blanche to share his experience… 🙂


In English mudac stands for Museum of Design and Contemporary Applied Arts. To quote from the museum’s website, it ‘wishes to be a place for exchanges and encounters between the various fields of design, the applied arts and contemporary art‘ … ‘In parallel, the museum opens its doors to performing arts: dancers, producers, performers and musicians. The mudac thus profiles itself as a platform for free exchange between diverse forms of artistic expression, both Swiss and international.’

As explained in an earlier entry, a strange figure dangling out of mudac had caught the wife’s attention. Upon publishing this entry, a friend of  mine promptly pointed out that the strange figure was in fact a giant monkey and not a figure wearing a mask. This certainly sparked our curiosity and we decided to go and see this exhibition on Stefan Sagmeister,  entitled ‘Another Exhibit about Promotion and Sales Material’. 

Born in Austria, in Bregenz, which is not far from Switzerland, Stefan Sagmeister studied in Vienna and in New York where he has lived for more than 17 years, which probably helps better understand some of the characteristics of the work of this master of self-promotion, by training a graphic designer but by profession more a publicist with a strong sense of the current cultural Zeitgeist than anything else.

The exhibition on Stefan Sagmeister focuses on works that were commissioned by clients or even by friends as well as on works that were created for Sagmeister’s own self-promotion, hence the accolade ‘about promotion and sales material‘. Interestingly, it was also the museum’s eleventh carte blanche exhibition, a concept whereby the curator stands back and leaves the actual preparation/installation of the exhibition to the artist or to their friends — the latter in this case.

There were several examples of works commissioned by clients featured in the exhibition, ranging from CD covers to furniture and from (a picture of) a ‘topsy turvy’, Siamese-twin yellow school bus to the giant inflatable white monkey we mentioned above. Our favourite was the TV advertisement for Standard Chartered (a bank present in Asia, Africa and Europe and which  Sagmeister felt obliged to say that they are ‘socially conscious’) which makes use of a recurrent feature of Sagmeister’s work: fancy forms of typographical lettering to make (mainly) advertising statements stand out. Although many of the typographical examples seen in this clip are not new (human letters, single letters on shirts or kites flying in the sky, letters made from cups with liquids inside, etc), they are meshed together in a simple but very effective way.

Probably more so than the clip he was invited to produce in Singapore, ‘shot in one day in an abandoned historic Tang Dynasty park‘, and which highlights I suppose a topic very dear to the wife: the importance of keeping a diary (which, according to Stefan Sagmeister, ‘supports personal development’).

Another personal favourite was the wedding invitation he designed for friends, which provides a narrative of how they had met and started their relationship cast on paper with a laser beam and cut into tiny strips by Miao Wang.  My only regret was that it was impossible to read the text because of the way the exhibit had been displayed in the case.

The clip on an installation he did in Amsterdam was fun, too, showing in fast-track mode how 250,000 coins of 1 eurocent were displayed in a square in Amsterdam to spell out the sentence ‘Obsessions make my life worse and my work better‘ over an area of 300 square metres.  Apparently the coins were left unguarded until a person felt they were entitled to take them away and the police were called in,  arrested the ‘thief’ and then decided that the remaining coins had to be removed.

The wifey and I also lurved the episode in the presentation he gave for TED  in 2004 on happiness where he recounts that a Korean artist friend of his went about New York sticking 50,000 blank speech balloons on billboards and other advertising posters, thereby allowing people to reclaim this space as theirs. For instance, a poster with the famous scene of Elliott flying with ET in a bicycle against a full-moon backdrop reads ‘Please let me die in peace‘. However, the tone of this speech was a little messianic, reminding me of some of the IT presentations of CEOs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and, at points, borders on the edge of New Age — for instance, when  Stefan Sagmeister, a self-acknowledged maker of lists, reads out some his formulas for happiness (scroll down for the list). The list was later enlarged to 20 items as part of a project, entitled Things I have learned in my life so far.

The poster he did to promote two exhibitions of his work in Japan showing the author in his underwear sitting on the same sofa before and after eating all the food packaging remnants displayed on the second picture, despite the self-mockery, smacks of the navel-gazing, attention seeking and exhibitionism so characteristic of contemporary modern art in general and of Stefan Sagmeister’s work as a designer in particular.

I also had mixed feelings about the giant monkey sticking out of a window which had caught the wife’s attention.  I could not help but think about the energy being wasted to help draw people’s attention to the current exhibition on Sagmeister as the torso, legs and tail of the monkey (which were again not made by him) almost occupied a full room (see photo on designboom). The monkey was part of a group of six apes commissioned by Six Cities Design Festival (a festival in Scotland) in 2007.  On his website Sagmeister explains that the ‘festival organisers wanted to communicate with the general public and avoid another design event made by designers, for designers. Their goal was to create pieces that would be reviewed in the general media (as opposed to the design press) and serve as an easy entryway into design’; however, out of context and together with the statement ‘everybody thinks they are right‘ displayed below the monkey’s hand I feel that the opposite rings truer… I even feel tempted to add that in the context of the UK, the concept was not even new as giant inflatable sculptures were displayed at the entrance to Tate Gallery Modern in 2003.

My overall impression is that the capacity to bring one’s projects to fruition without outsourcing the actual execution to third parties is probably what distinguishes a highly sought publicist designer (I read somewhere that he had even been contacted to design a poster for Obama’s presidential campaign while away on sabbatical  leave in Indonesia!) from a genuine artist. So would I say that the exhibition was mainly a portrait of a designer meister who passes on as an artist? To a certain extent yes but the fact that I felt compelled to write about it is probably more a testimony to the artistic streak in Sagmeister’s thought-provocative work than to the organisers’ selection of exhibit items… As such, Stefan Sagmeister, meister bricoleur, meister ‘Zeitgeist’ apprehender and meister self-publicist, hail to you!

Stefan Sagmeister’s ‘personal maxims’:

– Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.

– Thinking that life will be better in the future is stupid. I have to live now.

– Being not truthful always works against me.

– Helping other people helps me.

– Organising a charity group is surprisingly easy.

– Everything I do always comes back to me.

– Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on.

– Over time I get used to everything and start taking it for granted.

– Money does not make me happy.

– Travelling alone is helpful for a new perspective on life.

– Assuming is stifling.

– Keeping a diary supports personal development.

– Trying to look good limits my life.

– Worrying solves nothing.

– Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses.

– Having guts always works out for me.

PS: other, probably less sided reviews are available at

The following website shows a good selection of the exhibits on display at mudac:

Other entries related to contemporary art:




One thought on “Mudac…Stefan Sagmeister…

  1. Pingback: Why add another blog to the millions already around? « paulzan

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