I first met Ingo Maurer in 2009. The company I was working with received an invitation to participate alongside his presentation at the Spazio Krizia in Milano, Italy. We were honored to be part of the collaboration, an extraordinary creative exhibition that Maurer organizes every year for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the world’s largest and most important trade and furniture fair.
I had the opportunity to reconnect with Ingo and his team while visiting his showroom during my most recent visit to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), held in New York every year. It was another inspiring encounter that revealed his continually evolving practice. Growing from a small, independent lighting company that he started in the 1960s, Maurer is an internationally successful lighting designer, producing innovative commercial lighting collections alongside brilliant light installations for public and private spaces. The recipient of the most prestigious awards, his work has also been celebrated with traveling exhibitions by revered institutions such as the Vitra Design Museum. Still at the forefront of lighting design in both concept and innovation, he and his team continue to pioneer new ways to use and integrate advanced technologies while offering thought provoking and inspiring ways to experience light.
The work Maurer presented this year at ICFF was stamped with his playful ingenuity. In a sea of mediocrity, what sets Ingo Maurer apart is his vibrancy, his commitment to new ideas, his passion for his family (who also happen to be his design team) and most of all, his love of life.
Interview by Koko Jubilo
Photographs by Leonard Fong
Copywriter Jennifer Chiu
Koko Jubilo: I heard it was your birthday recently. Happy belated birthday, Ingo!
Ingo Maurer: THANK YOU! AHH! On this side of the ocean people are so incredibly friendly, incredibly friendly! They remember birthdays, ten and twenty. (laughter)
So I’ll start with the tough question then: what did you do to celebrate?
I was in Hong Kong just the other day, and I was invited to the China Club, this is my favorite place in the world!
Favorite place in the world? Why’s that?
Because it is unpretentious, food is good, service nice, not blasé and it’s lively. Lively! Yeah it’s fantastic! It’s sometimes difficult to get into because it’s always so busy, but a client of ours has a constant table down there.
So you were down there doing a bit of commission work in that part of Asia as well?
I have done a lot of work in Hong Kong. I have done things in Beijing, Korea, Japan.
So Asia is a big market for you?
Yeah, but we also do this big project in Brazil. I don’t know if you’ve seen it—this big egg in Inhotim.
Yes, I’ve heard. Please tell us more about it!
The guy responsible asked me, [he said] he would like to do a museum for my things, and I said, “I’m still alive, I don’t want to have a museum!” He’s a collector of my things and he loved it! He said I need something from you in this huge, huge, huge park and so I suggested this broken egg on a lake.
I’ve seen some plans, models and renderings. It looks amazing! When is it scheduled to be completed?
End of next year. It was scheduled to be completed this year but because of football and all these things…
Right, because the World Cup is in Brazil this year. It’s probably for the best that more time is taken to complete it.
Yeah, it’s good. We also designed a restaurant next to it, directly next to it. 700 people capacity… very interesting.
Does it share a dialog with the Broken Egg structure?
No, it has a different language and you don’t see all the egg because the egg is laying on a large platform against the lake.
Beautiful! I’m excited to see it!
For those that don’t know, could you please tell us about your upbringing? Perhaps, what you thought you wanted to be growing up and how that relates to where you are now?
I wanted to be a ropedancer! I wanted to be in the circus, and I am in the circus now!
I didn’t know that, I did hear that you were a typesetter and graphic designer at some point.
This was my basic education.
So how did this transform into becoming a lighting designer?
Well, I think chance plays a more important role than what you really want, you know. It happened with a bottle of red wine.
It’s not a bad thing to contemplate over a bottle of red wine, is it? And your design process—quality over form?
Yes, definitely. It’s about the light, I mean I really first did form, but I then soon discovered that the quality of the light is more important.
Speaking of quality, not only have you done quality work but also a quantity of quality. It’s not surprising that you’ve been awarded with the Compasso d’Oro for body of work. Congratulations on that! During your longstanding career, have you ever had the chance to think about how similar or different your first piece (The Bulb) is from your most recent piece?
Interesting…Why should I analyze it? It is something that I feel, if you look through my collection, you will see how many different feelings I have gone through, what I could afford, what I felt responsible [for]. I have a big family—seventy people working with me. I have a great team, I have a wonderful team, and I choose a very difficult path of doing it. You know, we are not really very commercial. We are maybe—I don’t like to use the word ‘art’ in connection to what I do, but it’s between sensitive creativity and strict functional work.
So you have said you have a team of seventy people working with you. It seems like there is a really strong sense of family running through your practice?
When you have an oeuvre like yours, spanning such a long history of work, have you thought about if, and how, things will change going into the distant future?
I would like that we all stand upside down and start thinking more [in] common, thinking closer to each other.
I see you as a living legend, in terms of lighting design. A wizard! Can you describe to me the interplay between shadow, darkness and light, and how that plays into your process as a lighting designer?
The wonderful thing is that there is a shadow. The shadow is always the reminder or the memory of the light and I would like to play more with it. I have done different projects where I include the shadow. I’ve done it on a small scale, but I would like to do it on a bigger scale.
Interesting. Is this going to be commission-based work?
It is a commission but I will turn it into something larger.
So it’s something that is already in the works?
Yes, definitely, but I’m always working on a lot of things and I enjoy that very much.
Are there any other individuals in the creative practice, whether it’s architecture, music or art, that influence you?
Well, I think everybody had a hero to start with, and my heroes were artists like of course Brâncusi, Giacometti or Picasso. But most of all, Calder, because Calder was the only artist who had in his work no pretention, and this is what I hate in art. I love art but I also hate it, the pretentiousness.
Sometimes the pretentiousness becomes a turn off, doesn’t it? Well, keeping in mind how highly regarded you are in your field, and after meeting you a number of times, I’ve never gotten that sense from you. It seems the magic and the strength is still there in your work, the ideas are great, and it always seems to be innovative, and not only in terms of technology!
Well, except for a few things, and I can say honestly [that] most concepts and most of the roots of things we are doing are mine. This I am very proud of, and I have become very aware of it. It’s not always like this because doubt and insecurity is something extremely important in life.
Why do you say that?
Because you go through fears and doubts and you have to have a backing. I’ve had backing that’s been fantastic in tactics, but when it comes to ideas and being crazy there are fewer people that back me up. Don’t forget we live in Germany.
So, are you happy to be living in Germany?
I am, but I could not bare it all year! I am home here in New York, since thirty-five years, and I work internationally. I meet very interesting people, great people, I learn a lot from them. I listen. I like to be exposed to different cultures. This is what life makes for me.
It seems like travel has always been a source inspiration for your designs.
Well, not only travel. Traveling, let’s say, loosens [you] up, you know. New York for instance, I consider to be like a centrifuge. You come to New York and you see so many different things and you go crazy. You think, “Ahhh! Incredible! This is something, and this is something, this could be inside you…” and before I go really crazy, I [take] the effort to go the other way around and come back to the middle of the centrifuge and clear.
This centrifuge concept is interesting. Speaking of which, I heard you like to dance the Tango! If you could relate the creation of light to music and dance, how would you describe it?
It’s movement. It’s movement in your mind. You have to be open. You can make something that people think is ugly and you can turn it into beauty, in your mind. Then you need the effort to translate to people that it’s not ugly, that you can see the beauty of it. I mean, it’s a creation. We all create for some reason or the other, but that’s what I’m after. I really need to be provoked and to be liberated everyday in thinking; otherwise I might as well die. What’s the point in living?
Thank you very much Mr. Maurer it’s been a great opportunity to have this talk with you.
You are welcome!