66 campana
Ingo Maurer

campana | ingo maurer

Projects 66 brings together the works of designers from two different material cultures and two different generations, German lighting designer Ingo Maurer and the Brazilian furniture designers Fernando and Humberto Campana. Odd associations can sometimes be the most revealing, and this installation provides a unique statement about both the universality and peculiarity of contemporary design.

ingo maurer
Ingo Maurer. Thomas Alva Edison lighting fixture, 1979. Staged at Schliersee Bauernbühne, Munich. Photo: Angelika von Mutius, courtesy Ingo Maurer

Ingo Maurer is well-known in the world for his unmistakable lighting fixtures, designs with strong emotional resonances and a seemingly universal appeal. Fernando and Humberto Campana, brothers from São Paulo, have recently gained respect in the design world for their evocative and humorous furniture, often made using unexpected materials.

Maurer first trained as a typographer and graphic designer in Switzerland and Germany and has long been fascinated by the bare light bulb, which he calls "the perfect meeting of industry and poetry." In 1966 he designed his first lighting fixture, on the occasion of an installation at the Herman Miller showroom in Münich. Inspired by Pop Art, the lamp called Bulb was, in fact, a bulb within a bulb. Its major success probed him to set up a manufacturing company, Design M, later renamed Ingo Maurer GmbH and still featuring a vibrant and poetic collection of lighting fixtures. Besides working on his own company and on the design of individual fixtures, Maurer is often involved in installations and architecture and "urban scenography" projects, to which he extends his obsession with light. Such projects range from bridges in Köln, and an art installation in the airport in Mònich, to the lighting of an exhibition of Medieval paintings in a church in Prague where he was also commissioned the lighting of the building by Frank Gehry nicknamed "Ginger and Fred".

The bulb remains a recurrent theme in Maurer's work. One of his latest lamps is an homage to Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. The hanging lamp, Wo bist Du, Edison?... (Where Are You, Edison?), features a hologram of a light bulb, and the material socket for the immaterial bulb is shaped as a continuous profile of Thomas Edison. Lucellino, one of Maurer's most renowned fixtures, is on the other hand a poetic play on the real thing, a simple opaline light bulb. Lucellino, a fusion of the two Italian words luce (light) and uccellino (little bird) is a bulb endowed with angel's wings, a glowing cherub. Many other lamps in this exhibition celebrate the light bulb, among them Savoie(1979)-- another formal composition consisting of one bulb, one socket, two electrical wires, and one silicon cable-- and Pollux(1967)--a swivelling chromed light bulb. In the attempt to endow the bulb with the status that it deserves, Maurer designs lamps that are often conceptual, yet also humorous and exquisite.

Paper, which Maurer considers the most becoming of all materials, is also a recurrent theme in his work. "My favorite material for lighting fixtures is still paper," he declares "because it is strong and soft at the same time and it makes people look better." In his sensitivity, the glow diffused by a paper shade is the ideal light to dramatize human beauty. Many fixtures in the show manifest Maurer's passion for paper. Some of them are classical lampshades whose role is to conceal the bulb, albeit in an unorthodox way--such as in Willydilly(1983), where a spiral of stiffened translucent paper is held together by a clothespin. In the new series MaMo Nouchies, Maurer pays homage to Isamu Noguchi, whose lamps were based on the traditional Japanese craft of akari-making. Together with Dagmar Mombach, who developed a particular technique for transforming and pleating the paper by hand, by pulling and folding, Maurer has designed a series of lamps whose shades look like exotic leaves curling spontaneously around the source of light. Other lamps display a more unusual use of paper, such as Zettel'Z (1997), a grand chandelier where the Bohemian crystal drops are substituted by scribbled paper notes from some incurable romantic's desk.

Two other unforgettables, YaYaHo of 1984--the first low-voltage system consisting of tense wires and many different luminous sculptural spotlights walking on the tightrope--and Porca Miseria! (Damn It!) of 1994, are also featured in this exhibition. Porca Miseria!,more a burst of fury than a chandelier, is an explosion of broken dishes, in which rays of light escape through the shards of porcelain. Be it about joy or rage, playfulness or meditation, future or past, Maurer's lamps have the ability to speak directly to everybody's soul.

Fernando and Humberto Campana, Glove vase, 1994. Photo: Andrés Otero, courtesy Fernando and Humberto Campana

The ethereal quality of Maurer's lamp is contrasted by the grounding element in the exhibition: Campana's hands-on furnishings. Fernando and Humberto Campana unite in their work an exquisite talent for the use of industrial techniques and materials, and the traditional craftsmanship of Brazil. The Campana's furnishings made their first appearance in European publications in 1994, thanks to the efforts of two design critics, Brazil's Maria Helena Estrada and Italy's Marco Romanelli. The world of design, always in search of new heroes, was ravished by their spontaneous and genuine talent, and by their personal grace. In their own description, Campana's design process hardly ever begins with an intellectual concept, but rather it is sparked by a subjective process of observation. Fernando Campana says that before he designs a new object, "I observe how people relate to each other and to the sun, sound and clouds." He observes their interaction to gain ideas. In particular, Romanelli has pointed out, without condescension, that all the powerful qualities of the Campanas' "naÏve" production can work as a reminder to other designers, inebriated by technology, of the zero degree of the design process.

Recently, the evolution of technology has brought many local cultures to the forefront in unexpected ways. Contemporary design is a fascinating combination of high and low technologies. Many advanced materials, especially fibers and composites, can be customized and adapted by designers themselves and still, they demand manual intervention, like many low-tech materials. In some countries, such as Brazil, material traditions are based on craftsmanship and on an economy founded on necessity. Because of those traditions, most works by Fernando and Humberto Campana manage to achieve the highly demanding requirements of good contemporary design. Because of their low-tech approach, their objects have been described by the press either as "indigenous"--because the designers are Brazilian, and not American or Italian--"hauntingly beautiful," or "shocking." This is not the standard vocabulary of design criticism, but it illustrates the unsettling power of a single-minded passion--even in design.

Fernando and Humberto Campana seem to have absorbed into their adult professional lives that which they learned as children. Many of the works selected for this exhibition are variations on the modern chair, all achieved without preliminary studies and drawings. They transform the bare form of a standard metal chair by patiently and amorously lacing colorful cotton rope or a plastic garden hose around and through; they layer plastic bubble-wrap onto the frame in guise of upholstery; they take sleek aluminum rods, treat them like bamboo, and weave them into a screen. They make a low metal frame and then weave plastic string, as if it were wicker, back and forth, round and round, like a spider, to form a classic stool. Their cheerful Inflating Table,which is both a table and its own package, was originally made of two large aluminum pizza-pans, which held the inflatable part between them as in a sandwich. In the production series, the pizza pans have been substituted by ad hoc aluminum parts. The materials are readily available, inexpensive, manageable; the shapes are universal and practical. The Campana furnishings are intuitive and spontaneous, and they fully exploit the freedom of expression and experimentation provided today by technology. This is why their objects are able to speak in so many different idioms.

Projects 66 is a revealing collection of works from two design teams that share a mutual affinity and which transcend generational and material differences to evoke a unique evolutionary trend in design. Maurer and Campana are talented, and especially passionate designers who are able to endow their objects with much more than functional correctness and pleasant aesthetics. Thanks to the experimental, yet pragmatic nature of architecture and design, and to the gregarious, yet individualistic nature of most architects and designers, the trend toward a global culture has been transformed into a healthy opportunity to rediscover the value of local traditions. All the while, form and function have ceased to be the designers' only goals, although they certainly remain important ingredients in the recipe. The best contemporary objects are those whose presence expresses history and contemporaneity, and which exude the humor of the material culture which generated them; those which speak a global language and which carry a memory of the past and an intelligence of the future; those, which like great movies, carry us to places we have never been; those which spark a sense of belonging in these exciting times of cultural and technical possibilities. And, of course, the best contemporary objects are those which tell us why they were made and reveal the processes that led to their making.

Paola Antonelli
Associate Curator, Department of Architecture and Design


© 1998 The Museum of Modern Art, New York