Another show about promotion and advertising material

Before appearing at le Grand Hornu, Another show about promotion and advertising material travelled from the Mudac in Lausanne, where it was produced, to contemporary art museums in Paris, Breda and Seoul. Austrian-born graphic designer Sagmeister chose to exhibit only projects commissioned by an eclectic roster of clients for a critique of consumer society staged from within the core of consumerism…

Ever wondered whether it’s the art work that makes the art venue or the other way round? One look at Grand-Hornu’s repurposed coal pits, which have been turned to gold in the hands of architect Pierre Hebbelinck, won’t make it any easier on you. But whether or not the historic industrial premises will treat all its exhibitions to the Midas touch, this Borinage gem is a sight to behold in itself. But forget the architecture, let’s talk Stefan Sagmeister’s graphic design. Before Hornu, Another show about promotion and advertising material travelled from contemporary art museums in Lausanne to Paris, Breda and Seoul. As the show’s title implies, Sagmeister chose to exhibit only projects commissioned by clients, putting aside his autonomously created works for the moment. Categorised as Selling culture, Selling corporations, Selling my friends and Selling myself, the presentation is a top-down approach to Sagmeister’s trademark: his critique of consumer society from within the core of consumerism.

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Born and educated in Austria but currently living and working in New York, graphic design anomaly Sagmeister effortlessly switches back and forth between billboards and the art world. Knowing that he won a Grammy for the cover of Talking Heads‘ Once in a Lifetime, that he turned down an assignment for the 2008 Obama campaign in favour of a sabbatical and that he is eulogised by Coca-Cola boss Joseph V. Tripodi, you might say Sagmeister’s work and personality are packed full of contradiction.

Another show about promotion and advertising material requires a different set of eyes than the pair that would normally guide you through a contemporary art expo. Most of his displayed work shows a complete lack of the minimalist subtlety many of us have come to appreciate and value. Quite on the contrary, Sagmeister piles up ten thousand bananas against a wall, revealing a self motivational slogan. Or he persuades over a hundred volunteers to meticulously arrange 250,000 cents on the tiles of an Amsterdam square only to leave them unguarded for the audience to interact with after completion. He cuts two busses in half and glues the bottom parts back together as if they were strapped back to back and on top of it all, then have it driven through the entire United States while generating a considerable amount of unpaid media coverage. Mission accomplished.

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However, despite all this marketing extravaganza, concepts such as multilayered significance, humour, obsession, performance, body modification, deconstruction and transiency are fundamentally interwoven with Sagmeister’s characteristic discourse, reminding us why his sketchbooks are displayed on beautifully designed show cases and his advertising campaigns are hung on whitewashed walls. Or as Mieke Gerritzen, a graphic designer herself as well as the director of the Graphic Design Museum in Breda, puts it in the exhibition’s catalog: “Forget the frameworks and rules for typography and legible text developed in the previous century. The designer may once again become a visionary, performer, architect and artist.”

Stefan Sagmeister
Antoher show about promotion and advertising material
Until 18th August
Grand Hornu, Rue Sainte-Louise 82 – 7301 Hornu
www.grand-hornu-images.be