Chocolates, gumballs, and by the way, your fly is open


quest for happiness, commentary and review, The Happy Show, graphic design exhibit, contextualizing happinessOK, I didn’t eat one of the chocolate truffles, or tell someone that their fly was open, but I did chew one of the happiness-rated yellow gumballs. I ate a no. 7-rated gumball to be exact.

You can do all, one or none of those at a terrific exhibit on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia: The Happy Show, by the prolific and ever-über designer/artist Stefan Sagmeister.

And while Sagmeister adamantly states that the exhibition won’t make you happier, I guarantee, it will make you smile.

Blurring the line between design and art, Sagmeister pondered: “The question I wanted to answer was, could I train my mind to be happy, the same way one trains one’s body?” To do that, he chose to explore meditation, cognitive therapy, and mind-altering drugs (as I understand it, this phase is yet to come).

quest for happiness, commentary and review, The Happy Show, graphic design exhibit, contextualizing happiness

While spending many years exploring the nature of happiness, his ambitious, unfinished 14-minute documentary, The Happy Film was born seemingly from personal loss and aging. The short is engaging, and most of all, relatable. I anticipate the film’s completion as Sagmeister’s journey continues.

The rest of the exhibit is a mix of bold, simplistic hand-drawn images and infographics in cautionary yellow and black, and interactive installations displaying personal quotes and oft-researched stats about both the individual and global relationship to happiness. Sagmeister’s interpretations are alternately moving and amusing.

As always with a quest for happiness, the questions get turned on ourselves, giving the show an introspective edge.

There’s a surprise around every turn, a new question after every answer, and a visual feast for the eyes. You’re wrong Mr S, I’m happy. Well done.


Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show
4 april 2012 ~ 12 august 2012
Institute of Contemporary Art @ University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
118 South 36 Street (at Sansom)
Hours vary W thru Su. Closed M + Tu.

Photos + animation: © 2012 Janet Giampietro

2 Responses to “Chocolates, gumballs, and by the way, your fly is open”

  1. lg Says:

    A wonderful exhibit and well worth the visit. Each display, sign and video will have you alternately musing, smiling, laughing, remembering, and, yes, perhaps even feeling some longing and sadness. But overall, I agree – I am happy. Kudos indeed to Mr. S.

    A shout-out also to the University of Pennsylvania Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) — always good, thought-provoking exhibits for free. Wow

  2. Janet Giampietro Says:

    It’s moving on next month, I encourage everyone to see it if they are in the area.

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