An artist known for his boundary-pushing work launches a line of offensive – and complimentary – business cards with a local company to raise money for the homeless
By Helaina Hovitz
Designer Stefan Sagmeister has worked with Aerosmith, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, and the Talking Heads, to name a few well-known clients. Known for his album covers and museum exhibits, he’s also lectured in over three dozen countries over the past decade. His most recent venture, though, is designing Luxe “business cards” for MOO.
These cards aren’t your average 3 by 2 paper nuggets, though; in fact, your information isn’t on them at all. So what is? Phrases ranging from “It’s a pleasure to be around someone who loves what they do,” to “You have too many mouths and not enough ears” and “You are a waste of time.”
The Luxe cards are hardly Sagmeister’s most controversial work; in 1999, he carved words from a lecture onto his body for an American Institute of Graphic Arts poster to symbolize the “pain” that comes with production design. He announced the launch of his design firm by sending out postcards that pictured him entirely naked, (when he re-launched the company with Jessica Walsh, they sent it out again, via email. Both were naked). He also put a black and white photo of a naked autopsied female torso on the cover of Pro-Pain’s album “The Truth Hurts.” In one of his most popular exhibits, he stacked 10,000 bananas against a wall, using green ones to spell out, “Self-confidence produces fine results,” against the yellow ones. The message disappeared once the bananas rotted out and turned black.
The inspiration for this most recent project came after encountering rude passengers on a train ride from New York to Philadelphia in June of last year.
“We only present one concept to a client. This was the concept,” said Sagmeister during an interview in his office last Wednesday, opening up the cards and seeing them for the first time. He held one up and continued, “I think it’s a nice gesture to leave on a table with a tip. It could also be helpful for someone to know that they’re annoying.”
Leaving behind a card with a certain unprintable explicit certainly isn’t subtle, but it is less confrontational than shouting it. The inspiration for the card that cannot be named came from his friend, the late Tibor Kalman, a graphic designer best known for his work as editor of Colors magazine and co-founder of design firm M&Co.
“He’s definitely got a point of view and an opinion, which he’s not afraid to put out there,”said Sagmeister’s friend, George Azar.
For twelve years, Sagmeister also handed out something other than bracing business cards: food, as part of a distribution program for the Coalition for the Homeless, located at 129 Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan.
“Coming from Austria, homelessness was new to me. You’d only have a couple of bums here and there,” he said. “People who could be our grandparents were going through the garbage.”
Sagmeister spent the next twelve years traveling by van to hand out fruit and sandwiches to people literally living on the streets, from the Staten Island Ferry to the Bowery and the East Side Heliport.
Now that he spends about 40 percent of his time traveling, he’s found a new way to give back. MOO works with a different designer on each Luxe project, and 100 percent of the net proceeds go to a charity of the designer’s choice. Sagmeister’s are going to the Coalition. MOO picks a new Luxe designer and a new charity each month, and has raised $15,000 for various charities since launching the initiative in February of 2012.
“Stefan’s one of those unique people who brings not only his compassion and willingness to get directly involved helping people, but also a fantastically creative approach to life and how to make it better for all New Yorkers,” said David Giffen, the Coalition’s executive director.
Sagmeister teaches a class at the School for Visual Arts called “Can Design Touch Someone’s Heart.” For a recent project, students picked a group of people and designed something for them, then presented it to them to see firsthand if the recipient was in fact “touched.” One group designed golden hamburger trophies and brought them to fast food restaurants around NYC to show their appreciation for the people of the night shift; students rolled out a red carpet and played Beethoven’s 8th for a baffled Taco Bell crew at 2 a.m. in Union Square and visited various downtown McDonalds.
“He definitely isn’t interested in trying to be politically correct, like the rest of us are,” said Azar of his friend. “He’s interested in putting his truth out there. You’ll definitely elicit a reaction doing that.”
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