Provoking Magic: A Conversation with Ingo Maurer at the Cooper Hewitt Museum

I was fortunate enough to attend this interview by Kim Hastreiter, Editor of Paper magazine, held at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum tonight. I missed the first 15 minutes of the interview but the rest was well worth the $10 admission fee (member discount). I am going to paraphrase some highlights from the interview and include some of his quotes. Bear with me I am not a journalist, I am just giving you some tidbits from my experience tonight.

Update: This interview was video taped by the museum. The video should be available on their site in about 2 weeks.

If you don’t know who Ingo Maurer is you can check out his website and if you are in the NYC area you can go to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and check out his exhibit.

He is a designer who emigrated from Germany in the 60s, worked as a freelance designer in NY and SF and then settles in Munich and has created award winning designs ever since his first called “Bulb”. You can learn more about his history on his website in the TEAM section. It is interesting to see how he started with only one product making it in his basement in a one-man workshop and now has a big company with 36 or more employees.

Fly Candle Fly - by Ingo MaurerThe first story I caught was about the “Fly candle Fly” which is an arrangement of wax candles suspended by invisible wire. The topic was Fire. It was a real problem to use them or showcase them in the US because they involved an actual open flame, oh no! But they can be lit up in Europe without problems because the laws are different. He made some comments to how even if he were to place a label on a candle that says “never leave a room with a candle lit” he could still be liable if someone was hurt in this country. I am not an expert and I can’t say if that is true. But I think he was just pointing out that we have more laws here that make things seem more “illegal” because they may potentially cause harm. I know Adam Frank is having success with his lumen products, so it can’t be all that bad. Next he raved about how he loves to go to burning man and he hopes it doesn’t get too mainstream and remains as genuine and as great as it has been for the past 5 years he has attended. He asked the audience who has been, and I think only one woman with a bald head raised her hand. I haven’t made it there yet myself. He wasn’t able to attend this year because of the installation at the CH museum but he said he hopes to have the time and money to create a project specifically for the burning man. Imagine that. He said the people at burning man are great people. “There is a lot of drugs, and a lot of sex,” he said matter-of-factly, “but it’s really about getting together with people and sharing… and the beautiful natural light” Ingo is a very warm and comedic person by the way. He is so open and engaging it was great to be there 10 feet away from him. He mentioned there are great artists expressing themselves as Burning man, he named David Bess for one who takes scraps of wood and makes sculptures to burn.

He said “the urge to be creative is attractive”.

The topic shifted to his upbringing and being born on the border of Germany and Switzerland he interrupted saying “But, I’m not Swiss!” When asked about what inspired him growing up he mentioned day dreaming about reflections off of water and rivers and trees. And he said he now really enjoys Italy especially Olive trees and how he love the sound of the wind and light through those trees. If he could he would live in a field of Olive trees. The interviewer mentioned how Ingo is misunderstood to be materialistic when in fact he is the opposite. He has had a home for 23yrs but has never bought a couch. He joked saying he told himself that “Once I buy a couch I am Bourgeoisie!” and he didn’t want that. Another question was about how he felt about his work or what he wasn’t others to feel. He was adamant that he doesn’t have any expectations and doesn’t have any message in his work. He wants the public to take what he creates and make it their own. That is why most of his lamps are not static and can be re-positioned and interpreted in a different way. For example he plans to work on an installation(s) for a subway system in Germany. “I cant disclose details, but the people will be a part of the work …”. I think he means that it will be someone interactive or at least responsive to the people around it.

The interviewer points out that Ingo likes to let his younger designers in his company develop a light and retain ownership and he might even ask a young designer to come with him to a show and showcase their work with him. Ingo also talks about how he started on his own making lamps and now has a large team of people working for him. He describes it as a big family, sometimes people clash and argue and sometimes it’s a big party. He feels more like an entrepreneur rather than an artist because he is always concerned about making enough money to pay his employees. He also mentioned that he has some employees that have worked with him from the beginning. He said having an employee for 35 years is both good and bad. It is good because they already know what you want, but sometimes Ingo feels he needs new blood and new thoughts to mix with the others. He describes it as introducing new languages and points of view into the team. He says that he doesn’t usually find new employees, they come to him. But he always insists that they can work well with their hands.

YaYaHo by Ingo MaurerIngo has a new friend named Edward. Apparently Ingo befriended a homeless man on the streets of NYC who he met a few days ago. He said he lives “somewhere around Lexington in this neighborhood” (CHM). He said the man had a great assortment of cardboard boxes and a sign that read something like “I am homeless, I am pennyless, I am car-less, I am plane-less” etc. So Ingo began to talk to him and when Edward found out he was a designer he asked if Ingo knew Luigi Colani. So this guy knew something about design and Ingo said the man is 44 yrs old and has a laptop. I don’t know how he is homeless and can power a laptop. But Ingo continued to say that he left the man with “a thing to put in his laptop” which I think is a thumb drive. And Ingo was to come back to the homeless man a few days from now to see what Edward had created. He didn’t quite remember what Edward would be making but he thinks it was some kind of cartoon or sketch creation. Ingo said “ He’s a little bit Coo Coo… .But I love people… The world is full of crazy people anyway..” He talked about how he is focusing more on the more creative expressive works rather than commercial products, but he keeps avoiding a title of an artist. “Not quite artist but more like creator, making things.” When asked to name some artistic influences he said he favored Italian art and he named what he XXL-Dome - by Ingo Maurer - Find this at the Camper store in SOHO NYCcalled his “Heroes”. Brancuzzi, Alberto Giacometti especially the work Spoon Woman , and he adores Alex Calder, a U.S. artist. Ingo goes on to say America is great for a new artist… there is much enthusiasm.” He said here people actually say “oh I love that, that is amazing etc” wheras in Europe they are “still more closed.”

He reflected on how when he first arrived in America in the sixties it was like a re-birth for him he felt so alive. An audience member commented on how Ingo has limited edition runs of some products and the product are priced high enough to be considered exclusive etc. He asked how Ingo feels about that (referring to how he keeps saying he is not an artist). Ingo replied “Is limited edition art?” “I don’t want to be called an artist” “I don’t want to be so exclusive” He made some references to how some people’s work can be seen as snobbish then said, “I think my work doesn’t have snobbery” “Do you think it does?” he asks the crowd with a smile, but no one answers. He goes on to talk about how silly it is when people go through their live wondering what meaning they have but he thinks people should just do things and experience things and take risks to find out who they are and be true to themselves.

Mozzkito by Ingo Maurer

He says when he went to Japan they asked him what his message was and he said “I have not a message.. I am not a messiah” Someone brings up the art shown in Chelsea, and Ingo says he loves the artists and is good friends with some but he just doesn’t like how the art is shows. He dislikes when people just go there on a weekend and look at pieces critically but don’t experience them spontaneously like at union square or somewhere else. It seems he prefers work that is a part of people’s lives and to be interacted with and absorbed into themselves. One the last things he commented on this evening was what he takes most from his heroes is that he admires the energy and integrity they had and that helps him when he is low. The people at CHM (or maybe Paper Mag) did video tape the interview so maybe we can access it sometime soon. Video should be up in 2 weeks. After the interview was over we all had about 45 minutes to browse the installation at CHM ourselves. A few minutes into it I saw Ingo himself mingling with the crowd and checking out his own work (or perhaps the crowd).

LED Bench by Ingo Maurer - LEDs are magically powered between two pieces of glass

He was very open and spoke to whoever approached him.I thought it was great to be there live to experience this interview and see Ingo in person. This was an event exclusive to CHM members. You can go to there site to sign up. I think its worth the price if you are in the NYC area because admission to the museum is free and you get discounts for events like this. It gives you an opportunity to meet people you would otherwise not meet.

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