Art and Literature

Story Time Sunday gallery edition: does the Happy Show make me happy? yes, no, and I’m not sure

I have a confession to make. photo copy 2

I tend to resist all things Austrian because of a terrible set of experiences my husband L and I had in Vienna many years ago. As a result, I don’t like Austrian food, and I don’t like Austrian music. Hitler was Austrian, and that worries me. Although, Arthur Schnitzler was Austrian, and of course so was Freud. And I LIKE them. Alot.

But still, Austria gives me the shivers. Peter Handke (who is one weird writer dude) said he couldn’t bear to live in Austria any more. Elfriede Jelinek doesn’t have much that’s good to say about it either.

So, um yeah.

I put off going to see Stefan Sagmeister’s MOCA exhibition The Happy Show, and went and saw the other German artists in Los Angeles instead:  Urs Fischer (Swiss), and Hans Richter (German) at MOCA Grand/Geffen and LACMA respectively.

courtesy MOCA

courtesy MOCA

But today I realized I had to stop avoiding, so I went to the Sagmeister’s The Happy Show. And there were parts of it I just loved.

I loved that the exhibit challenged the difference between words and pictures, and between art and information. I loved that the exhibition followed me — even into the bathroom, where words were painted inside the stall and were printed backwards on the bathroom door, so I could only read them in the mirror.

photo I loved a video of an older woman (older than me) sitting nude with words written on her. I loved that I took a card from a vending machine, and that card asked me to unzip the fly of my pants as I saw the exhibit. I complied, and felt very nervous the whole time I was there. But also sort of proud of myself for doing it.

Then I went home. photo copy 3

I thought about the fact that the walls are covered with what Sabine Doran has called “dangerous yellow” — the color that signals racial difference and scariness.  And I thought about how those happiness dots proliferate in the US and Australia but are pretty scarce in Africa, according to one of the “fun charts.”

I thought about the fact that Sagmeister, and Fischer, and Richter were and are extremely privileged white men with access to institutes, and scholarships, and impressive collaborative possiblities and nice offices and teaching jobs. And materials for their work. And people who support their doing it.

And of course, I’m white too, so I have access to those things also.

The facility of the Sagmeister solution — that we can choose to be happy — makes me nervous.

I look at my students at UCR, and I look at the homeless guy who asked me and L for money on Friday night and I think that alot of these people would love to have access to meditation sessions, and trips to Bali. And I think they would really like enough money to pay the rent.

photo copyI guess I’m saying I wish that Sagmeister’s work were more political. That it pushed us to do something on behalf of others other than ourselves.

Perhaps the point is that we have to fix ourselves first.

Perhaps.

2 replies »

  1. An exhibit on happiness or accessibility doesn’t trivialize unhappiness, does it? Maybe it points to the differences, as it made you think, it might others. But I will go on though you haven’t asked me to, and say someone’s unhappiness does not mean all happy people should be unhappy. Maybe it means happy people should be more aware and helpful. And yes, I agree with you, everybody has to fix themselves, even with a helping hand from others.

    • Thanks for commenting! That’s a great question about trivializing unhappiness… I’m not sure where the exhibit stood on that question, or if it even took a stand. It makes me wonder what the Unhappy Show would like … Perhaps it would look like the news.. Or maybe not! I’ll have to ponder that one!

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