You may not know the name of Ingo Maurer, the celebrated German lighting designer, but you probably know his work. If you’ve ever been to New York at Christmas, and seen the UNICEF crystal snowflake that hangs at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, you’ve seen his artistry. If you’ve ever been charmed by a lamp that consisted of little more than a light bulb with angel wings, you’ve been captivated by his imagination.
Maurer’s way with light is so engaging that it prompted curators at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to break with their own tradition and present their first show ever by a living designer. One look at “Provoking Magic, Lighting of Ingo Maurer,” and it’s easy to see why.
There’s a chandelier made of broken china and silverware that looks like a dinner party that just exploded. There’s a coffee table embedded with LEDs that looks like fireflies trapped in Lucite.
There’s a blue-lit room, an homage to Edison, that projects a hologram of the inventor’s original 1879 light bulb on the wall. There’s wallpaper that lights up like a circuit board. There are two blown-up photographs of Andrew and Louise Carnegie, whose mansion now houses the museum, whose lips and eyes move in animated surprise.
Installing the exhibit was something of a nightmare, Maurer confessed, since nothing can puncture or be hung directly from the historic ceilings. “I was very doubtful about accepting this place because of its rooms,” Maurer said at a dinner following the exhibit’s opening. “ I didn’t know what to do, how to be tender to this building.”
But he managed to pull it off, with his team and those from the museum working long hours to hide wires and transformers, and to mount the elegant installations without damaging their surroundings in the process.
Maurer, who works out of his own factory in Munich, where he’s become famous as a designer-entrepreneur, combining advanced technology with hand craftsmanship. “He gave German design a soul in a time of overwhelming grayness,” Clemens Weisshaar, a young German product designer told the International Herald Tribune. Maurer has gone on to do lighting installations in subway stations, retail locations, fashion runways, monuments, and homes.
The most compelling thing about Maurer’s exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt is his innovative use of LEDs – light emitting diodes. They glow in furniture, sparkle in big installations, and make for wry commentary embedded in wallpaper and
For lighting designers, LEDs are clearly the way of the future, given their low energy consumption and bright light. And in Maurer’s hands, we can now also see their artistic potential.
This is a particularly opportune time to visit the Cooper Hewitt. In addition to the Maurer exhibit, there’s the show, “Design for the Other 90%,” which features cool stuff for developing countries, and “IDEO Selects: Work from the Permanent Collection.”
Fall’s the season for great new museum and gallery openings from coast to coast. What other exhibits should travelers check out as they roam the country?