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Exhibitions > Traditional Anti-Traditional

Traditional Anti-Traditional: Stefan Sagmeister's Graphic Furniture / Gerrit Terstiege

Austrian graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, who lives in New York, is known for his work with space. Like a stage designer he arranges and produces scenes that resemble still lifes and stage sets, which he then transforms into posters, loose series of pictures, book covers, record covers, or videos. When I asked him why he preferred this complex and elaborate way of working, he said: "There are two important reasons. First, I find it exciting to include the viewer in my design. Sometimes the viewers have to do something with the work before they can understand it. And secondly, I am interested in testing the borders of a medium, no matter whether that is a business card or an advertising pillar.
Borders or limitations can be very inspiring! Brian Eno once wrote in his diary, that the reason why the guitar became the most important musical instrument in the twentieth century was that it really offered so little. This made guitarists want to explore its limitations - something the synthesizer never managed, because it already offered so many options. It is the same with a sheet of paper. It is so
simple that it invites you to explore the borders."

It is probably the simplicity of traditional arts and crafts that attracted Sagmeister to the project shown here. It includes a carved faceted ceiling panel, three very unusual armchairs, a table with dozens of compasses integrated into the table top, a light object made of stacked egg cartons, and a standard lamp which can be moved as desired by three remote controlled toy dogs. All of these objects seem to be anti-traditional at first, but they all have their precedents. They were all made in 2009 on the island of Bali. Every seven years Sagmeister withdraws from his everyday work to concentrate on freer projects. He spent his first sabbatical in 2002 in New York, not exactly
the best place to relax and gain some distance to hectic everyday business. "I did not know at the time whether I would stay a designer after my time out. I had no plan at all for the first few weeks. This time I wanted to do things differently. I was interested in Bali because I wanted to work in an unfamiliar environment. I laid out a plan for each day and wrote a list of things I wanted to try out.
Some of them did not work out, like a purely typographical comic. One of the items on my list was furniture."

Graphic furniture - this has to be explained. In recent design history there are countless products and ideas that can best be termed graphic, since their form, their points of reference, and their surfaces draw on analogue and digital forms of representation. They seem to be "roughly pixled", like Ron Arad's sofa "Do Lo Res", or they quote graphic means of expression like Philippe Nigro's sofa series
"Intersection", which is reminiscent of the glaze or colour mix of watercolours. Or they thematise the simulation of space in drawing and graphic art, like the furniture series "Shade" by the Swedish design group Front, in which enlarged pencil shading emphasizes the real spatiality of the objects. It is to be expected that the chairs, tables and lamps of a graphic artist look different from those created by a trained furniture designer. In a certain way Sagmeister's furniture can be seen as a logical continuation of his three-dimensional designs. The difference, however, lies in the functionality of the furniture - its everyday use value. These armchairs are not just the representation of armchairs for the duration of a photo session, and not just mere props. They are items of furniture in the very
traditional sense. They quote forms of seats like the lounge chair, easy chair or the throne, and at the same time ironise all the representative gesturing that traditionally accompanies these pieces of furniture. A good example is the armchair that thematises the many stray dogs that are so common in Bali. Sagmeister carves images of the dogs on the right and left of the seat, which is reminiscent of the thrones of ancient Roman emperors, and also of artificial theme worlds in Las Vegas and elsewhere. In the case of the "Compass Table" Sagmeister gives his table a very humorous further function - being able to use compasses to locate the table itself and all of those who sit at this table. The remote-controlled "Dog Lamp" is an ironical comment on product designers who like to equip their objects with all kinds of new technical features, ostensibly to make them easier to use.

In the tradition of artists like Marcel Duchamp, Martin Kippenberger and Jeff Koons, Stefan Sagmeister did not build most of the furniture himself, but commissioned local craftspeople, making a particularly innovative use of the Indonesian art of carving and rattan furniture. A rattan chair now seems to be a typographical sculpture, while its message is as simple as a postcard greeting: "I very much love sitting here looking over the Sayan Ridge with a large pot of coffee and a medium size cigar and letting my mind go." The carvings of a large facetted panel refer to Sagmeister's "Greatest Hits". Today it decorates his New York bedroom ceiling in a particularly idiosyncratic form of self-assurance. Looking at this, anyone who knows Sagmeister's oeuvre will easily be able to identify the motifs that derive from his spatial works of recent years. Finally, a true curiosity: the "Egg Lamp". Sagmeister
commented on this as follows: "On a country road a woman in front of me was riding a motor scooter, with just one hand on the steering wheel. In her other hand she was balancing several stacked egg cartons. This image inspired the "Egg Lamp", in which small networked LEDs emit blue light
illuminating the shells from the inside." Truly a shining example of associative design - with no model, almost no tradition, and quite definitely illuminating.

An article by Gerrit Terstiege, "new olds" catalogue, p. 57-63

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