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In Defense of Beauty: Sagmeister & Walsh at MAK

What can beauty do in design? Can beauty be a tool? What even is beauty? Explore this questions and more at ‘SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty at MAK’, Vienna

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In the world of design, beauty has a bad rep. Or so the New York-based creative duo Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh believe.

The pair – who work across graphic design, art direction, typography and illustration with their creative agency Sagmeister & Walsh – have observed that throughout the 20th and 21st-century design criticism has developed an apathy towards beauty and considers it a superficial strategy of appeal. Countering these negative connotations comes to the exhibition SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty at MAK, Vienna, that immerses visitors in all things beautiful.

Supported by theories of psychological aesthetics, the exhibition acts as both a plea to reconsider the role of beauty and a demonstration of what is possible when beauty is treated as a functional element in the design process. Bringing together over 70 works from the fields of product design, city planning, architecture, and graphic design, as well as installations made especially for the exhibition, Sagmeister and Walsh encourage visitors to take delight in beauty.

Divided into six thematic areas—“What Is Beauty?”, “The History of Beauty,” “In the Eye of the Beholder,” “Experience Beauty,” “Transforming Beauty,” and “The Beauty Archive”—the exhibition reframes the discourse on what beauty is and what it can achieve. The sections encourage the contemplation of scientific and philosophical studies on dopamine, symmetry, evolution and the role of subjectivity in relation to design.

The exhibition comes to a crescendo in the Sensory Room that was designed in collaboration Swarovski. This installation attests to the fact that beauty is not restricted to sight but also incorporates beautiful smells, beautiful tactility and beautiful sounds. Made from thousands of crystals shrouded in fog, the room creates the illusion of being inside a never-ending sunset with shifting colors, smells of citrus and the soundscape of a Malaysian tree frog.

Through an exhibition that viscerally affects its visitors, Sagmeister and Walsh urge us to reconsider our ingrained judgments on beauty. It asks could beauty actually be a method of transforming and bettering the world?

‘SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty’ will be on display until March 31, 2019. It will then be shown at the Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main from May 10 May September 22, 2019

SAGMEISTER & WALSH
Stefan Sagmeister & Jessica Walsh, Portrait, 2013 © John Madere
SAGMEISTER & WALSH
MAK Exhibition View, 2018 SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty Sagmeister & Walsh, Fog Screen, 2018 The installation was produced in cooperation with the ERSTE Stiftung MAK Columned Main Hall © Aslan Kudrnofsky/MAK
SAGMEISTER & WALSH
MAK Exhibition View, 2018 SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty in the middle: Nils Völker, Two Hundert and Seventy, 2018 MAK Columned Main Hall © Aslan Kudrnofsky/MAK
SAGMEISTER & WALSH
Unbound, Virtual Reality Application for the exhibition SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty, 2018 © Unbound Technolgies
SAGMEISTER & WALSH
MAK Exhibition View, 2018 SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty MAK Permanent Collection Contemporary Art © Aslan Kudrnofsky/MAK
SAGMEISTER & WALSH
MAK Exhibition View, 2018 SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty Sagmeister & Walsh, Color Room, 2018 In cooperation with Backhausen MAK DESIGN LAB © Aslan Kudrnofsky/MAK
SAGMEISTER & WALSH
MAK Exhibition View, 2018 SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty Sagmeister & Walsh, Color Room, 2018 In cooperation with Backhausen MAK DESIGN LAB © Aslan Kudrnofsky/MAK
SAGMEISTER & WALSH
Sagmeister & Walsh, Logo SAGMEISTER & WALSH: Beauty, 2018 © Sagmeister & Walsh, New York
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