So, how about being happy? – Especially in times when many Western people enjoy a healthy above average living standard – while not far away, human disruptions are taking place where globalization has erased all borders?
With this context set, an exhibition called The Happy Show is both daring and soothing at a time. The great grandmaster of graphic design Stefan Sagmeister has honored Vienna and the Museum of Applied Arts with an exhibition you can still visit until March 28th.
But why should you? One of the maxims these days is the pursuit of happiness. A concept that has become more and more of a self-inflicted imperative as well, but we will come to that later. First, Sagmeister shows us the playful side when he lures us over the steps through a yellow door branded with the motto of the exhibition. Happy hint: go visit the show on Tuesday evenings when there is no entrance fee.
Entering the great neo-renaissance inner courtyard you will find two towering inflatable gorilla-puppets, holding signs reading out ‘Everybody always thinks’. Mkey. So what. But it’s exactly this claim-like quality of truisms that will make the next hour so rewardingly rich. You know it all, but you can’t remember. You’ve come across it all, but you simply forgot.
Sagmeister’s turf is deeply simple. His dealing with the nuances of and ways to happiness are loosely scattered over the rooms of the souterrain and revolve around a productive self-questioning re everyday issues related to private and professional life. Playful diagrams, rating scales consisting of bubblegum spenders, videos and other intuitive experimental assemblies will give the visitor insights on how to gain happiness, in a tangible hands-on way. And the old museum magic is also working: meaning, you will really start to contemplate, take your time and relax.
Nuggets of wisdom will make you nod or simply let the edges of your mouth turn slightly upwards, while you read about the diminishing marginal utility of a higher income (won’t afflict your happiness level that much) – or a good rule of thumb, internally oriented folks might consider more often: ‘Don’t accept NO’s’.
But don’t get it wrong: this is not a hedonist birthday bash. Together with lots of smiling faces there was actually another strange effect visible. Visitors started to engage with each other. Small card games and drawing tables really managed to create interactions. So next to tangibly toiling the philosophic DNA of happiness and addressing its facets in an entertaining way, Sagmeister managed to integrate his audience into the process of meaning making – not just in the process of consumption. He made strangers talk to each other, laugh with each other. It all fairly reminded of a perfectly staged how-to guide for fostering brand-consumer proximity.
Being a marketing professional himself, Sagmeister teaches another good advice for any brand with an almost effortless ease. While giving us a great time, he stays humble and on eye-level with his ‘customers’ from the beginning to the end. Not only does Sagmeister talk freely about his own shortcomings, deficits and therapies, he also deals with subjects of production: most captions are handwritten and you will discover crossed-out typos but also loosely spread mantras against the self-optimization glory that is prevalent so much these days. It is also this side of the pursuit of happiness that is addressed here with a soothing: Don’t try so hard. Yet still, Sagmeister’s call to action is unmistakable: To get your life straight, you have to get off your buttocks and move.
So again, we are caught in this strange dichotomy between letting go and stepping it up. Guess, that’s the show called life, though.
You all deserve it: go, get happy at:
MAK MUSEUM of APPLIED ARTS
A – 1010 Vienna
All pictures were taken in the exhibition The Happy Show by Stefan Sagmeister. No copy-right harm intended.