Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister takes over the ICA with a groundbreaking, happy–making show.
Written vertically up the front stairs of the ICA, the words PEOPLE TOO CHANGE serve as a greeting to visitors approaching graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister’s long–anticipated exhibition “The Happy Show” that opened this Wednesday. Though this is neither the first nor the last platitude of the exhibition, it is, perhaps, the one that best represents its core. Sagmeister’s multimedia interactive show is composed of many moments, all revolving around one question: can we train our minds to be happy, the same way we train our bodies to run faster?
The exhibit calls for audience participation, including stops where viewers can donate a quarter, draw and submit their own image of happiness to be posted on the show’s tumblr and receive a random task like “Make a complete stranger laugh out loud.” One wall is covered from floor to ceiling with layered text that lights up only when an exhibit–goer rides a nearby bicycle. Near the entrance, a plastic cut–out frame invites audience members to place their face into it and “Smile!” causing another installation to gleam with an array of color.
Interspersed throughout the ICA are Sagmeister’s experimental findings — what does and does not bring him happiness. Presentation is simple and direct, usually hand–written with Sharpie by Sagmeister on the gallery walls, or presented in short video clips. He advises viewers to be truthful, have guts and be courageously sociable even if it does not come naturally to you. The designer also includes statistics and info graphics about the nature of happiness. They attempt to answer questions about whether money brings happiness (claiming it does to a point, but not very much), whether love does (which depends on the kind of love) and which demographics have the highest spirits (Scandinavians, carpenters and married couples, apparently).
The findings may not seem to be profoundly ground–breaking, but the impact of Sagmeister’s show not only stems from its well–researched facts but from the humanity of the artist’s experiences. “The Happy Show” does not offer concrete answers, but offers audiences a glimpse of one man’s search for an improved mental well–being.