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Stefan Sagmeister

The world is getting better and better!

Only few people have mastered the art of seeing the good in the world - and making it also visible - like Stefan Sagmeister. The graphic artist’s exhibition “Besser und besser” / “Better and better” can now be admired at ice Q. The location at 3,048 meters could hardly be more suitable – amidst mountain peaks, where the view widens and nature’s beauty is before your very eyes.

For decades, Stefan Sagmeister, who was born in Vorarlberg and lives in New York, has been considered one of the most innovative and influential designers world-wide. His works can be found at MoMA in New York, London, Tokyo and Israel, he has worked for brands such as BMW and Ben & Jerry's while his music album covers for Lou Reed, the Stones and Talking Heads enjoy iconic status (and he won two Grammys).

His work is somewhere between art and design and always carries a message. It has been steeped in his art works with great optimism for several years. In his new book “Now is better” and the accompanying exhibition, which is celebrating its European premiere at ice Q, the 61-year-old artist proves that the world is getting better and better. He refers to data collected during the past 200 years and visualizes them on historical paintings.

Star-Designer Stefan Sagmeister schafft Fakten im ice Q

Stefan, the ice Q at 3,048 meters literally “forces” us to change our perspective. And that‘s exactly what your exhibition encourages to do. Whether in New York or in a Tirolean mountain village - are we currently losing ourselves in negative thoughts, even though it is not justified?

Oh yes, currently this feeling seems to be prevalent all over the world. That’s mainly because the media – both traditional and social media – are globally limited to short-term phases. Farmers used to read the annual almanac in the past, but today we have constant input. 24 hours a day, ranging from TV to Twitter.

I have come to the conclusion that almost everything that happens quickly seems bad because it fits in well with short reporting. However, the statistical truth is diametrically opposed to the perceived truth. If you look at the world over a longer period of time, you can see that almost everything has developed very positively with just a few exceptions. We are healthier, go hungry much less, have more access to education and a lot more.


But you can often only see this from a distance and after some time.

Yes, the positive often takes much more time. And yet: for an exhibition in Shanghai, we thought of presenting a bundle of fake newspapers with the headline: “135,000 people escaped extreme poverty.” This headline would have been true every day for the last 25 years.


You approach the topic based on facts by combining art with statistics. How did this concept come about?

It was fairly easy. I am pursuing a long-term theme based on data from the last 200 years. Accordingly, it also needs a long-term medium as a basis. Therefore I combined the sober, historical facts with a very personal and emotional story. The paintings come from the remaining stock of my great-grandparents' antique shop, which I found in the attic. It made perfect conceptual sense to complete a medium that has been existing focr such a long time and can also be expected to continue for a long time to come.


Does it also reflect the progress in your personal history, in the history of your family?

Absolutely. My great-great-grandparents lost six children and that was hardly unusual for that time. It’s a topic that I took up in the development history of child mortality between 1870 and 2020.


Do we just have to be patient and everything will be fine or better? Or is “Better and better” also a call to take action?

That is actually the main motivation. To believe that everything is miserable is both depressing and paralyzing. Positivity is so important to initiate change. We see what we have already achieved, that we can succeed and that it is worth it.

Optimism makes purely rational sense. It provides strength and motivation. I am much more valuable to those around me when I radiate positive energy. If I don't feel at ease, I cannot improve my environment. And if I approach something with a positive attitude, I will definitely be more effective. But it has nothing to do with naivety. Of course, bad news is just as true.


Bad news as a wake-up call, good news as a motivation driver?

Exactly. Bad news is necessary to get up and leave our comfort zone. We need warnings, but we also need inspiration.

A person like Donald Trump feeds on the image that everything is bad. “Make America Great Again” means that things used to be better. But when? Ten years ago, when Obama was president? 20 years ago when there was 9/11? Or even further back in times of hunger and hardship?


However, you emphasize that the USA was the first democracy...

... and today, according to the UN, there are 86 countries. For the first time in our history, almost half of all people live in a democratic system.


Other topics you have dealt with include women's rights, murder rates, nutrition - but also the development of avalanche deaths.

Yes, I found it quite fascinating that the number of avalanche deaths has fallen so dramatically, even though significantly more active people are in the mountains.


The fact that so many people are drawn to the Alps is also a reason that engenders criticism. What is your view of tourism?

In my opinion it is a historic-cultural achievement that of course also has negative side effects that we have to react to. But tourism has a very positive connotation for me. In my home region of Vorarlberg there were still Swabian children in the 20th century. Farmers sent their children, whom they could not feed, to Swabia where they often had to work under terrible conditions for entire seasons.

Or if I go back to my own memories: my first design job was for a youth magazine called “Alphorn”. At events we sold cheese from local mountain farmers, who in the early 80s still depended on any support. Today, Vorarlberg’s cheese is highly valued. And if we stay with food: when schnitzel with potato salad was served in the inns it was the pinnacle of culinary enjoyment for us. Today, we cook locally and seasonally at a top level and with great pleasure.


Stefan, for everyone who doesn't own a Sagmeister artwork: are there any tips on how you can at least train yourself to have a positive view of our world?

Maybe you can think about how much time you spend by consuming short-term media. If you reduce this time and instead study something long-term, like a non-fiction book, that will definitely do you good. And of course there is also our book “Now is better”.


As well as the view of nature, which always makes everything better. Thank you so much for the interview, Stefan.


Exhibition: “Besser und besser“ / “Better and better“

ice Q, Sölden
Admission included in the lift ticket
Open daily 9:00 – 16:00
27.02.- 02.04.2024


On 02 April 2024, the ice Q gourmet restaurant invites you to join an exclusive "Dinner of the Arts at ice Q" with Stefan Sagmeister.