Tune in to “The Happy Show” at the ICA

Happy Show

Aaron Igler/Greenhouse Media

“Is this a giant monkey which I see before me, outside of the Institute of Contemporary Art?” you may have pondered as you walked near 36th and Sansom streets.

Yes, noble observer, it is, actually two inflatable monkeys overlooking Sansom Street, holding signs that say, “EVERYBODY THINKS” and “THEY ARE RIGHT.” The inflatables are two of six monkeys that have been displayed by graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in several public places.

Anthony Elms, associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), says the primates are “popular examples of how [Sagmeister] has always sought surprising and inventive ways to use typography and his maxims in public settings.”

Filling the ICA’s entire second-floor galleries, mezzanine, terrace, ramp, and bathrooms, Sagmeister’s multi-media exhibit “The Happy Show” offers visitors the experience of walking into his mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via mediation, cognitive therapy, and mood-altering pharmaceuticals.

“I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.”


Aaron Igler/Greenhouse Media

Based on Sagmeister’s decade-long exploration of happiness, the exhibit features 33 works in film, print, infographics, sculpture, and interactive installations, consuming more than 3,000 square feet of space.

Known for his campaigns for Levi’s jeans and album covers for musical headliners such as the Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones, and Lou Reed, Sagmeister shares his own story alongside materials about what determines happiness.

Elms says “The Happy Show,” initiated by former ICA Director Claudia Gould, marks the first time the museum has worked with a graphic designer.

“It expands our tradition of looking not just at visual art, but at other disciplines, such as architecture and fashion,” he says. The show introduces “the audience to Sagmeister’s research and ongoing study of happiness to see if it is possible to train your mind to be happier in the same way as you’d train your body to improve your shape or health.”

“The Happy Show” runs through Aug. 12. Admission (happily) is free.

Originally published on May 17, 2012