Currently on show at Deitch Projects‘ Grand Street gallery in New York is a new exhibition of work by Stefan Sagmeister. Entitled Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, the show is a continuation of Sagmeister’s book of the same name, published by Abrams Books this spring.
The book is based on a list of maxims made by the graphic designer on his “experimental year” in 2000, where he took time out from working on commercial projects. While the maxims read as a mixture of wise pragmatism with philosophical reflection, they quickly became incorporated into projects for clients when Sagmeister’s office reopened, and it is 20 of these projects that form the book.
As we have come to expect from Sagmeister, the work produced from the maxims appears in wildly varying forms, and has been published all over the world in spaces normally reserved for advertising or promotions; on billboards, magazine spreads and even on the cover of an annual report. “They are all made for different clients and different countries, yet they form a coherent series and it made sense to make a book about them,” Sagmeister tells CR.
The idea for an exhibition came after Sagmeister was approached by various Chelsea galleries in New York keen to show his work. “I didn’t know which one to go with so I asked Jeffrey Deitch and he said, ‘why not do it with me?’,” he continues. “He was very happy to show the work as graphic design, and it fitted well, so the whole thing made sense.” It is a logical link-up, particularly as Deitch Projects has built a reputation for showing ambitious projects from artists working across a variety of disciplines. Alongside major exhibitions by contemporary artists, it has previously featured shows by director Michel Gondry (whose second show with Deitch follows Sagmeister’s exhibition) as well as events from musicians including the Scissor Sisters and Fischerspooner.
“The book has 20 pieces in it and maybe half are shown in one way or another in the gallery, and we’ve made a number especially for the gallery,” continues Sagmeister. “Some pieces work especially well, better than they do in the book.” The exhibition also includes an interactive piece, for the maxim Being Not Truthful Always Works Against Me, which reacts to viewers as they approach.
Sagmeister’s work has often appeared to land on the blurred line between graphic design and art, yet he is firm in his understanding of these projects. “I see it all as graphic design,” he says. “It’s made by a graphic design office in mediums normally employed by design and all has a client behind it. But from a viewer’s point of view it doesn’t matter. The whole question of art versus design has limited interest – it comes in waves, in the 20th century there were times when art and design were embedded in each other, the Bauhaus for instance, and then they separated, and then they came back together, and then they separated… from the viewer’s point of view, it’s always just a question of ‘is it good or not?’.”
Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far is on show at Deitch Projects until Feburary 23. Sagmeister’s full list of 20 maxims are as follows:
1. Helping other people helps me.
2. Having guts always works out for me.
3. Thinking that life will be better in the future is stupid. I have to live now.
4. Organising a charity group is surprisingly easy.
5. Being not truthful always works against me.
6. Everything I do always comes back to me.
7. Assuming is stifling.
8. Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on.
9. Over time I get used to everything and start taking for granted.
10. Money does not make me happy.
11. My dreams have no meaning.
12. Keeping a diary supports personal development.
13. Trying to look good limits my life.
14. Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses.
15. Worrying solves nothing.
16. Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.
17. Everybody thinks they are right.
18. If I want to explore a new direction professionally, it is helpful to try it out for myself first.
19. Low expectations are a good strategy.
20. Everybody who is honest is interesting.