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Sagmeister’s Show Stinks

Updated 2/23/08

Literally. It does. Walking into Deitch Projects, just off the tourist-induced ruckus that Soho has become, it smells like a banana milkshake-scented steam room. It’s suffocating. But that should be no surprise when 7,200 bananas flank the longest wall of a climate-controlled gallery in the middle of winter — nor the fact should be ignored that a steam room, again, literally, was active in one of the gallery rooms. I can outlive the smell, as the show does not take too long to view but, even a week after having seen the show, I can’t shake the thought of those 7,200 uneaten bananas. Regardless of their spelled maxim: Self-confidence produces fine results.

Bananas on a wall

Original state of bananas.

Sagging bananas

Sagging bananas after two weeks on the wall.

I don’t consider myself a model citizen: I throw away small leftovers on my plate from my home-cooked dinner, I leave the lights on inadvertently for hours at a time, our computers at home have not been shutdown since we bought them, and in the summer I don’t mind cranking my A/C to 60-degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours straight to cool my sweaty self. But one thing I do know: I do not waste 7,200 bananas. And I was extremely surprised that Sagmeister would. He has generally displayed a strong sense of social responsibility and consciousness — whether it’s through his work for the Move our Money campaign, or as he expressed in his diary chronicling his year without clients, “[July 20, 2000] Went to the homeless yesterday. I do it once a week, just distributing soup, milk, bagel and oranges through the Coalition to the homeless. We serve about 250 customers at 8 stops each night […]” — as well as being generous with his time, friendly with strangers and close friends, and thoughtful. I was very taken aback with his decision. And apart from the bananas on the wall, still more were sent as invitations

Banana Invitation

Banana invitation with carved addressee. [Photo from maayanpearl’s Flickr account]

I’m not one to decide what’s the best use of 7,200 bananas, but I’m certain there are better uses for them than hanging on a wall. My dismay is even more so as Sagmeister is someone that doesn’t lack cleverness, wit or imagination — as evidenced in the other 19 Things Sagmeister Has Learned In His Life So Far. Why bananas? Why not recycle something? Diapers, buttons, scrap metal from the Gowanus giant dumpster, Metrocards, light bulbs… ANYTHING. I would bet my mortgage that any other material he would have chosen for such an ambitious part of the exhibit would have been amazing.

There are certain very general facts of modern life, within which any constructive activity must be seen as contributory. […] These facts include a global view of the human situation, which can hardly exclude the decimation of the rain forests any more than the appalling disparity of living standards, and life expectation, in the different parts of the world […]. Yet if human solidarity and humane imagining mean anything at all, it is upon such awareness that every act of construction, however small, must in some sense draw, seek nourishment, become predicated — or withdraw into triviality and the blandishment of excess. — Norman Potter, What is a Designer?

I’m typically not a quoter, but I was skimming through Norman Potter’s assertive book the night after seeing Sagmeister’s show, and the above passage ringed timely. The excess of the bananas for the sake of showmanship does not feel right. What kind of responsibility is someone in the position of Sagmeister, well, responsible for? As more and more designers and non-designers cast their eyes on his work on a global scale while critics lob admiration — “the Johnny Depp of the design world” as Paola Antonelli recently said in Alice Rawsthorne’s review of the International Herald Tribune — it seems to me that banana antics like this one are not on par with today’s global consciousness that the world is not at its prime — just imagine the carbon footprint of getting those bananas to Soho.

Interactive Wal

Interactive Wal

Interactive Wal


Printed Maxims

The Family

Anyway. It’s more than 650 words, and so far no review of the show itself. It’s vintage Sagmeister. What else would you expect? It’s clever, funny, engaging and it has giant inflatable monkeys in a tiny space. It’s great. The “interactive wall” of giant notepads is ingenious and generates a vivid texture. I missed the shenanigans of the celebrity steam room, but it seems like it was a good time. And the book? Same. But I could not help the uneasiness of those uselessly ripening bananas eclipse everything else and feel a strong detachment and ambivalence from the show.

I hope this post does not encourage or open the door to vile comments towards Sagmeister — like it happened in the Creative Review blog. I have written this having deep admiration for Sagmeister’s work and appreciation for what he does for the design community, as well as gracious for the many times he has replied to my many queries. Please comment cordially and thoughtfully.

Stefan Sagmeister’s show at the gallery has been on view for more than three weeks, since January 31 and closes tomorrow, Saturday February 23.


Update 2/23/08: The biggest peril of blogging is the urge to post something right away. In my case I had two hours free on Friday morning — at the end of a non-stop work week — and the show was closing the day after (today), so I felt like I just had to post it. Even if in the back on my head I knew I should have written to Stefan before the condemnation. Some here might enjoy the foot-in-mouth scenario after reading Stefan’s response to me this morning, which he agreed for me to post and decided to stay out of the discussion himself, for various understandable reasons. So here is what he had to say. Does it make up for the use of bananas? Your call. Once again. Do I wish I would have asked before posting? Yes. Do I take anything back? Sort of. It’s still been an interesting discussion and I really appreciate everyone’s good manners.

Because of the wonderful willingness of so many New York designers to write into our fogged up windows at Deitch (considering they all gave up 3 hours of their time I wanted to be there when they started) I spent quite a bit of time in the gallery and had a chance to observe many visitors. I had the impression that lots and lots of people were delighted by the banana wall, - during the 4 week run of the show hundreds and hundreds came through. Because so many visitors clearly enjoyed a banana with their eyes and with their nose, I was so surprised to learn you hated the smell. I myself absolutely loved it.

Why did I do this?

I wanted a formal device, that would allow the content of the sentence (“self-confidence produces fine results”) to appear and disappear, just like my own self-confidence comes and goes.

As a medium I chose bananas because their ripening process allows for this appearance/disappearence to happen, because they are an absolutely beautiful fruit, because they smell sweet and luscious as they turn brown, because they carry significant visual baggage (Andy Warhol’s banana cover for the Velvet Underground ever so slightly connected to our work for Lou Reed - who came by and loved the bananas by the way), because they fit neatly with our inflatable white monkeys, because glued to a wall bananas form a pattern reminiscent of a knitted sweater working tightly with our needle stitch typography.

Are these reasons good enough to “waste” almost $ 2000.00 dollars worth of bananas? I could have created the same size wall utilizing custom wallpaper, designed a vector graphic in illustrator, paid $ 8000.00 for printing it out and likely would have avoided upsetting anybody. I think it would have been weaker.

The bananas will come down on Sunday. If anybody from the blog wants to see them in real life, Saturday from 12:00 - 6:00 is the last chance. We’ll throw the brown bananas out. I donated double the cost of the bananas to the coalition for the homeless in New York (before I read this blog).

— Stefan Sagmeister
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PUBLISHED ON Feb.22.2008 BY Armin
Darrel’s comment is:

Armin hates bananas.

On Feb.22.2008 at 10:40 AM
Toby stokes’s comment is:

I don't see why this as a 'waste' of bananas, it is just that they are not being used for their primary use, i.e eating them.
Let's face it, any money or energy spent on art could have been used instead to feed the homeless.

Whether materials used in any endeavour, artistic or otherwise, are wasteful depends on whether you perceive any benefit from it.

On Feb.22.2008 at 10:52 AM
Haik Avanian’s comment is:

I think it'd be great if they collaborated with a bakery and made banana bread for the homeless.

On Feb.22.2008 at 10:55 AM
Mike’s comment is:

Again, not an attack on Stefan, just an observation.

This is not the first time Stefan Sagmeister has wasted fruit on a project. Two nights ago during his presentation of Things I have Learned in My Life So Far, Stefan had made mention of a "Plum + Banana" invitation that had gone horribly wrong. The invite, which sounded more or less like a plum and banana packaged together and wrapped in printed tissue paper wasn't timed properly and as a result, much fruit went bad and was thrown out. By no means is this an enormous, world-changning dilema, but it IS a significant waste of yummy fruit.

On Feb.22.2008 at 11:12 AM
Whaleroot’s comment is:

How do you know Sagmeister isn't going to compost those bananas?

On Feb.22.2008 at 11:18 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Whaleroot, I don't know. I e-mailed Stefan to let him know about the post. If there is any updates or retractions necessary, I'll make them.

Although, would that make it okay? If they were used for compost?

7,200 perfectly good bananas seem better suited for eating than for compost -- at least if purposely decided so.

On Feb.22.2008 at 11:26 AM
JonSel’s comment is:

Maybe his next project will involve him eating all of those bananas and then deriving 20 things he'll have learned from that experience.

On Feb.22.2008 at 11:26 AM
Brad Gutting’s comment is:

Originally I wrote an articulate, non-vile tirade that when I re-read it, sounded like it heaped all the blame for all the world's problems on this guy and his art show.

Pretty useless.

Toby's right--money used for art and other things like TV commercial media buys, Viking kitchen gadgets, personal jets, and Bentleys could be spent on solving world hunger. Similarly, passenger jets could theoretically turn off the engines at high altitudes and save tons of gas. It doesn't happen, though.

People buy Bentleys, corporations spend money on TV spots, we buy things we could probably do without and so on and so forth. You have a right to. This is a free country and thank God for that, and we can proselytize about compassion and giving and virtue and doing the right thing and being responsible and on and on and on and it's all fine and good but it doesn't actually change anything.

And while I realize that, that doesn't mean it's okay to excuse stupidity and irresponsibility. If anything, our culture's become too lax and tolerant of misguided behavior; on the other hand, it can be awfully quixotic, castigating every self-absorbed blogger out there and lambasting each narcissistic art exhibit. Tiring, to say the least, and a dubious use of one's time.

But this was a pretty stupid use of bananas. Bananas are healthy food and there are a lot of hungry people out there who wouldn't mind having a bundle or two. This *is* a different situation than spending 10,000 bucks on a diamond pendant (or excessive expenditure of your choice) because well...he's actually wasting the food. He literally glued the fruit to a wall for his art show. Given the guy's track record for talking about thinking, he's not exactly putting on a master class in thoughtfulness here.

It's unfortunate. Why would anyone do that?

On Feb.22.2008 at 12:01 PM
alex’s comment is:

this is the most ridiculous thing i have read today. it's sarcasm, right?

On Feb.22.2008 at 12:04 PM
Jonathan Terranova’s comment is:

He can add this to the Things I have Learned in My Life So Far

• How to needlessly waste a shitload of bananas.

On Feb.22.2008 at 12:05 PM
diogo’s comment is:

I don't agree with Armin on two things:

first, because, although i don't really like this wall that much, i think it would be less amazing with things like buttons or light bulbs;

Secondly, because, like Toby, i don't thing using food is worst then spending a lot of money on an art object, or even spending on it hundreds of old teddy bears that would perfectly suit the needs of the children in Africa (ok, maybe it is morally wrong, but it is definitely not different).

Do you think they shouldn't do the la tomatina in Spain?

On Feb.22.2008 at 12:20 PM
Bennett Holzworth’s comment is:

Thanks for the review and the photos. I wish I were in NY.

Will the bananas still be good enough to make 3,000 loaves of banana bread for the homeless (like Haik said)? Maybe a local zoo will feed it to there animals.

It seems that there wouldn't be a better product that will change so predictably. The change in the bananas can't be duplicated with something that is not perishable. It is a very dramatic and beautiful change. Maybe he could have used all the discarded beef from California. Oh the smell . . .

It also seems like the the blank books would leave just as much (or more) of a carbon imprint than the bananas. Except I assume the banana trees are still alive and producing oxygen. I think art is important and Stefan has made some interesting works here. While we should always try to use the most ecological friendly solution, sometimes there is no alternative.

On Feb.22.2008 at 12:25 PM
Pat Broderick’s comment is:

A lot of trees died (and had their pulp chemically bleached) to make that wall of books. Those monkey inflatables I assume are made from polyvinyl chloride. Are we only concerned with the delicious parts of the environment?

On Feb.22.2008 at 12:27 PM
Mark’s comment is:

I have to admit I've wasted perfectly good bannanas too, they're rotting in the kitchen as I speak, was there any meaning or metaphor behind the reason for using bannanas? I mean why bannanas? So many questions. So little time.

I wonder when they'll be taken down, I they just there for show or something?:S

On Feb.22.2008 at 12:32 PM
Patrick Sesko’s comment is:

Maybe his intention was to garner a reaction such as this: to bring attention to the fact that so much food is wasted in the wold. Wouldn't it be worth "wasting" 7200 bananas if it meant that it brought future awareness to homelessness, or wasting food, or global poverty - or other associated issues?

Wish I would have been there to see it.

On Feb.22.2008 at 01:39 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Like most art, I think we're WAY over analyzing it.

I don't know Stefan personally, but have had the pleasure of meeting him on a couple of occasions and enjoying conversation with him.

I certainly can't speak for Stefan, but I have a hunch he did it because "hey, cool...it's a wall of bananas!" Do we really need any other reason?

To say these could have been better used to feed the homeless is fine, but you hear that argument all the time used against public art funding. Why waste all this public money on a sculpture in the park? They could have filled a pothole with it. Why spend money on public architecture...that empty Wal-Mart would work just fine! Etc.

Yea, there's a point in there, but it would certainly make for a much less interesting world if we took it literally.

Sometimes a wall of Bananas is just what the world needs.

On Feb.22.2008 at 01:52 PM
Brad Gutting’s comment is:

I certainly can't speak for Stefan, but I have a hunch he did it because "hey, cool...it's a wall of bananas!" Do we really need any other reason?

Yeah. We do.

The money used on a public sculpture (say...Federal Plaza and Richard Serra...) is siphoned off to do just that. People vote, representatives get elected, committees are formed, decisions made, and we have something resembling funding for the arts because of a democratic process. I'm generalizing (wildly), but there's approval for using certain portions of money for certain things.

This is OBVIOUS WASTE OF PERFECTLY FINE FOOD. There's NO other reason than it struck him as cool. Maybe Patrick has a point, that maybe it calls awareness to wastefulness in general but man...I think you're reaching. It's my kind of reaching though, the kind that assumes good intentions, and there's nothing wrong with that. While Sagmeister's intentions can hardly be construed as "evil," they are as I said before, thoughtless.

If anything, it's the mindlessness that REALLY pisses me off here. If the reason is just as you're saying, Darrel, then that's sad and discouraging. Because it's fucking stupid and brainless.

It's really easy for privileged people to muse about meaning and intent in ANY art, but when that art includes perfectly fine food (as opposed to deceased sheep, cows, and sharks a la Damien Hirst), yeah, I think the discussion changes. We're not talking about plaster or oil pigments or clay, we're talking about stuff that people can use.

I'm now equally as disgusted with some of the comments here as I am with the show. Good lord, when did critical thought become such an inconvenience?

On Feb.22.2008 at 02:10 PM
Whaleroot’s comment is:


I think the bananas might be better suited for compost than eating. Think about — and excuse the crudeness — 7,200 people eating these bananas and then shitting them out into the sewage system where we used way more resources in the refinement process, or 7,200 people belching or farting due to their banana consumption and producing methane. 7,200 bananas being composted to help feed crops, forests, organic etc. seems the better route to me.

I would find it interesting if Stefan is thinking about this, I look forward to an update. And about the carbon footprint, also ask Stefan if he bought the bananas from local markets/co-ops or if he had them trucked to his location.

On Feb.22.2008 at 02:49 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"If the reason is just as you're saying, Darrel, then that's sad and discouraging. Because it's fucking stupid and brainless."

Oh good grief. It's art. Made out of bananas.

I'm walking over the Walker Art Center for lunch and demanding they take down every damn painting as that canvas could have been better spend clothing the homeless. ;o)

On Feb.22.2008 at 03:18 PM
Haik Avanian’s comment is:

i wish we'd stop blurring the line between art & design and go back to things that make sense (aka design)


On Feb.22.2008 at 03:44 PM
Gary R Boodhoo’s comment is:

uh... haven't seen the exhibition, don't really understand why Armin is so upset with usage of perfectly good food however.

First of all, its pretty apparent its a time based piece, not just a display of "kewlness" Plastic fruit generally doesn't decay/

Secondly, if we're speaking about "world hunger" or the "plight if the hungry", the scope of that problem goes far beyond 7200 individual pieces of fruit.

Finally, the author confesses that he is equally wasteful, but blithely glosses over his equally "irresponsible" usage of the air conditioner and power grid in general.

So what was the point of this article exactly? Other than the hypocritical condemnation of waste, Armin seemed pleased enough by what he saw.

On Feb.22.2008 at 04:52 PM
Mark Shepherd’s comment is:

I have to agree the bananas are not the only ecologically damaging or wasteful material in the exhibit - they are the most obvious however. The plastic, the paper, all of this material has a "carbon footprint", I wonder which has created more damage, greenhouse gas, deforestation, etc

Soon all such resources will be measured and we will be uber-socially conscious to not do a damn thing, even make art, statements, critique, dissent, disagree. Very interesting where all this discussion and ideas of destruction has lead us. To knew forms of censorship?

I would love to hear from Mr. Sagmeister on his choices, materials and politics.

Great post Armin. Makes us each think of our own choices.

On Feb.22.2008 at 07:30 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

7200 school lunches could use a banana (instead of an apple tart).
7200 people in shelters could use the bananas.
7200 air travelers could use the bananas.
7200 people in the street could use the bananas.
7200 train commuters could use the bananas.
Heck, we could probably find 7200 better uses for the bananas.

I believe in art, and in doing things for the sake or art, yet I also think one has to consider the impact, the perception and the final message received. The: It’s OK to waste all these bananas, and you can do this too, is not something I would not like to encourage. What happens when the show is picked up by other galleries? Does each new location require a new banana wall? I sure hope not. But I can see the same book wall gathering signatures and notes across the globe—hence the environmental impact is greatly reduced, as the various pieces that make up the show are actually, in a way, recycled.

You can eat the invite for example, which I find refreshing and better than all the junk in my mail box—and you could create impact by giving them away in Times Square in a massive banana inspired improv. That would have more impact, as I can see local newscasters going bonkers.

We can all improve our environmental impact, one thoughtful banana at a time, even if we insist on blasting the AC.

On Feb.22.2008 at 11:01 PM
Adam Okrasinski’s comment is:

I think it is imperative, even in times like these (global warming, mass poverty, etc.) that artists, or designer/artists, be allowed to waste 7,200 perfectly good bananas for the sake of art. This is culture at its finest! Right? I wish I could see it in person and smell its sweet stench myself!

On Feb.22.2008 at 11:45 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

I'm glad I was there for the opening and didn't need to smell it.

I'm surprised that the M&Co. banana promo hasn't been talked about more. That was the first thing I thought when I saw the wall, and I assumed it was very intentionally self-referential of Stefan to not only use the bananas in the show but also to use them as invites. It's as if bananas bookend the experiences that led to what he's learned.

The bananas most certainly seem "wasted" in terms of providing nutrition, but whether or not that is a huge act of wastefulness on Stefan's part remains questionable to me.

In this case, a representation of "irresponsibility" has trumped what may or may not actually be irresponsible. Guy DeBord would be proud. Akin to Gary Boodhoo's comment above, 7200 bananas is pretty much in consequential when compared to the scale of the issues I presume Armin is alluding to.

On Feb.22.2008 at 11:56 PM
Von K’s comment is:

Maybe, once all the bananas are black, they'll make a giant loaf of banana bread.

On Feb.23.2008 at 02:04 AM
vlad’s comment is:

i'm sorry to say this post is ridiculous.

sagmeister is a designer but in this case he surely does art. these are two different things and they should be treated like such.

moreover, i think if people start using cars that work on bananas instead of gas, it wouldn't be such a bad thing after all, wouldn't it?

On Feb.23.2008 at 02:19 AM
Michael Bierut’s comment is:

Isn't all art wasteful?

On Feb.23.2008 at 08:07 AM
Raymond Prucher’s comment is:

Thank you, Michael, but no, not all art is wasteful.

Recalling Goya's "Los desastres de la guerra" or even Picasso's "Guernica", I'd say it can be useful.

Art for art's sake... definitely a waste.

7200 bananas rotting on a wall... criminal.

The "This is America" comment I read earlier... also criminal.

Yes, you will not solve problems with art. But I'd rather have seen Sagmeister donate 7200 hours of his time in a soup kitchen than this.

If you feel you deserve that iPod, or to staple 7200 bananas on the wall because it's cool and you work damned hard, and this is America and you have the freedom to do what you want, then yes, the homeless and hungry of America, and the 400,000 to 800,000 dead Iraqis are on your head. At the end of the day, I pay my taxes, and that kills me, because I know what it's being used for.

Alternatively, if you can wake up in the morning and with confidence tell yourself that you've made the world a better place, then kudos. If not, what are you waiting for?

Final note: This freedom of speech we're all boasting about... why are so many afraid to use it to say something of value?

Armin... I'm with you on the bananas. Bloody criminal.

On Feb.23.2008 at 08:56 AM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

I do not know about banana agriculture, but one thing I wonder about is the assumption we are all drawing (myself included) that these bananas were fit to eat to begin with.

Drive through Illinois and you'll see huge tracks of land (erm, corn)! Should you try to stop and eat an ear or two, as many people do, you'll get a mouthful of the unfortunately tasting "feed corn" that is used to feed cows and the like. It won't do you harm, but it certainly isn't right by the taste buds.

Maybe the bananas were grown on a contaminated farm, and were not eligible for human consumption. Or maybe Mr. Sagmeister really did use 7200 bananas for art.

On Feb.23.2008 at 11:40 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I have posted an update based on a response from Sagmeister.

On Feb.23.2008 at 12:01 PM
Raymond Prucher’s comment is:


It is a shame that you feel you needed Mr. Sagmeister's permission to criticise his work.

He is admittedly self-indulgent, and clearly has enough confidence to waste $2000 on 7200 rotting bananas.

Twice that amount to the Coalition for the Homeless could have been thrice that amount, but he opted for the sensational, and wrote back in hopes that our pity for his fragile ego and awe at Lou Reed's positive response would quiet our contention.

On the contrary, it strengthens my resolve in calling it criminal. Irrefutably so.

Maybe instead of his self-indulgent pseudo intellectualism, if he had used this work to direct us to read Dan Koeppel's "Banana", it would still be criminal, but at least would have some conscience attached.

Or perhaps he could have used the rotting Palestinian bananas sitting at an Israeli checkpoint. But that kind of stink would have been controversial in the truest sense, and would have garnered a response Mr. Sagmeister would not be able to handle.

As a final note, how many homeless praised the exhbition?

By the Medicis, for the Medicis.

On Feb.23.2008 at 01:39 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> It is a shame that you feel you needed Mr. Sagmeister's permission to criticise his work.

Raymond, it's not a matter of needing someone's permission, it's simply a matter of getting the full information.

On Feb.23.2008 at 02:16 PM
Callie’s comment is:

Well, at least he didn't tie up a starving street dog to a wire in an all-white, pristine corner of an all-white, pristine art gallery and let it DIE as part of his exhibit. This is what an "artist" in...I think it was Costa Rica...did. Not just the artist, either. The gallery owner who gave the show its venue and all the stupid viewers who saw the dog and did nothing to help it.

I could find the link and post it but I'm not going to because it's too disturbing.

Most art, I think, is navel-gazing and worthless. I don't have much patience for work that has no purpose other than drawing attention to the artist.

On Feb.23.2008 at 05:12 PM
Gavin’s comment is:


Myself and 40 other students are currently putting together the layout and presentation of our BA degree show, to take place in June, here in London.

We originally spent many, many meetings trying to find a way to make the show entirely carbon neutral and have all boards, modules, stands and seating made from recyclable materials. Within reason, making the show a fully recyclable event. (as a matter of course, not a boast).

We quickly found this strategy to be a very deep rabbit hole that gets deeper each time it appears to end - constantly finding problems in supposed solutions, finding problems in those solutions..... It just isn't a practical method for creating any kind of successful exhibition. Or piece of work, for that matter. Where to stop?

Whilst nobody would argue that 7000 bananas is hefty use of fruit, in proportion it's fairly small. Stefan seems to have covered his bases as far as this is concerned anyway; and saved $6000 in the process.

As evidenced in some of the embarrassing Creative Review responses, an individuals' conceptual credibility is the easy target off the back of these kind of ideas, and as a result conversations quickly turn into 'the purpose of art' and 'the responsibility of the artist'.

Many blog grannies will be smashing their handbags over each others' heads over this issue way after this website ceases to exist.

Good post - Gavin.

On Feb.23.2008 at 05:41 PM
Gavin’s comment is:

PS. The luxurious nature of being a designer seems to be the reason for all this self-doubt.

You are not a designer without some form of comfort in your life (by that I mean the need to survive, eat etc.) but the contemplative, conscious nature of being one makes you pile pressure on yourself to perform on the moral scale and justify your existence.

Whilst this is damaging (especially to emerging designers who find it hard to get a foothold on their beliefs), it's even worse for us to lynch every single designer who tackles these moral, social areas by ripping apart their fabric and examining it for holes.

Barnbrook was practically hung out to dry on CR's blog last year for even ATTEMPTING to put on a politically themed show.

Yet we allow hundreds of mahogany chair designers in Milan to go about their merry-way as they apparently 'acknowledge' their wastefulness?

It seems blog tradition to bring up these issues of responsibility only when a designer creates something we can see fault with on the theme.

But as I said - praise for your balanced view and request for fair comments.

On Feb.23.2008 at 06:16 PM
Gavin’s comment is:

PS. The luxurious nature of being a designer seems to be the reason for all this self-doubt ('who are we to say?').

You are not a designer without some form of comfort in your life (by that I mean the need to survive, eat etc.) but the contemplative, conscious nature of being one makes you pile pressure on yourself to perform on the moral scale and justify your existence.

Whilst this is damaging (especially to emerging designers who find it hard to get a foothold on their beliefs), it's even worse for us to lynch every single designer who tackles these moral, social areas by ripping apart their fabric and examining it for holes.

Barnbrook was practically hung out to dry on CR's blog last year for even ATTEMPTING to put on a politically themed show.

Yet we allow hundreds of mahogany chair designers in Milan to go about their merry-way as they apparently 'acknowledge' their wastefulness?

It seems blog tradition to bring up these issues of responsibility only when a designer creates something we can see fault with on the theme.

But as I said - praise for your balanced view and request for fair comments.

On Feb.23.2008 at 06:17 PM
james puckett’s comment is:

Would it have been a waste of food if he had painted bananas on the wall using casein, egg tempera, or beeswax encaustic paints? Has anyone checked to see where his book was printed—it may have been done with petroleum-based inks, using up precious oil that could have been refined into gasoline, thus keeping the price of oil lower and staving off recession. Was it printed with soy-ink? Because those beans could have been used for a nice tofurky. And what about the paper? We could sure use those trees; a PDF would have been a lot more responsible, and not used any carbon being shipped.

It doesn’t matter what medium Sagmeister—or anyone else—uses, one can find some way to write a moralist rant about it. Design critics should challenge themselves to resist that urge and write something better.

On Feb.23.2008 at 08:03 PM
Adam Okrasinski’s comment is:

Anyone who says that this is criminal, does not understand the concept or importance of Art.

Any designer who doesn't understand the concept, and importance of Art, probably isn't a very good designer.

Art, along with everything else in this world, ie science, music, film, math, cuisine etc. is what makes design useful and important.

Telling an artist that they cannot use as many damn bananas as they can afford, is akin to telling someone they cant say anything they want.

If you don't like the show, don't go to see it, and especially don't buy the book.

On Feb.23.2008 at 08:10 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Design critics should challenge themselves to resist that urge and write something better.

James, you can address me personally. Blanket statement implications like the above don't help.

On Feb.23.2008 at 09:32 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

I've held off commenting on all this because I wanted to think about it a bit more before I typed an opinion. Mr. Sagmeister has always been a clever commentator on Contemporary Design by putting out Big Statements. It's what we expect from him and he delivers.
I admit that seeing photos of a show is not exactly like walking through a gallery of THINGS, but it's all I have to go by.
I'm not very impressed and I wish I was because I admire Mr. Sagmeister's dramatic design work. This seems to be nothing special, all gag jokes. If something above and beyond a discussion of bananas and wastefulness has come of it then perhaps it makes a point about Americans and excess. But I think it's, at best - amusing and, at worst - useless and bombastic.
Real Art has the potential to open eyes, change minds and challenge assumptions. I know because I've experienced Art that has done these things.
I wish I could say something positive like an equivalent $2000 could have put a roof on a house in post-Katrina New Orleans Ninth Ward, I say to myself.... and then I shrug.

On Feb.23.2008 at 10:57 PM
Niki’s comment is:

I'm not quite sure what the big hub bub is all about? If it was a wall of clubbed baby seals, well ok, I'd be upset. Are bananas an endangered fruit?

On Feb.23.2008 at 11:06 PM
Maria’s comment is:

The banana wall was simply beautiful. I'm not one to waste food, but Stefan's piece was witty, compelling and thoughtful.

If we can't have banana walls, we can't have orange fabric festooning Central Park. And: "Michael, nix the chapel ceiling murals. We're going with white. One must think of the poor."

Art was, is and will be a "waste" of time and resources. There's no scandal or suprise in that. We're in danger of slipping into propaganda when art is subject to social, political and economic expediencies.

On Feb.24.2008 at 04:48 AM
Paul Rand’s comment is:

haha, you got all whiny and tried to act all morally superior and the Sagmeister called you out on it and pwned you.

On Feb.24.2008 at 09:50 AM
james puckett’s comment is:

James, you can address me personally. Blanket statement implications like the above don't help.

I can, but that wasn’t my point. But to say it directly, why write piece like this? What good is being done by pointing fingers and moralizing in an industry where almost anybody, including you, can be the subject of this sort of complaint?

I could point out that your Stop Being Sheep series is a waste of resources because the content is already available online, a far less wasteful medium. But it would be pointless—you’re a designer, and creating ephemera is what you do. Getting mad about it is like getting mad at a dog for barking.

On Feb.24.2008 at 10:22 AM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Check out "Bananas, A Storied Fruit with an Uncertain Future" from NPRs Fresh Air 18 Feb.


On Feb.24.2008 at 12:15 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I can, but that wasn’t my point.

Probably not the point, but by generalizing, you are implying that other design critics are writing about the same thing and could be doing "something better". This is hard to corroborate and unfair to other design writers. And for what it's worth, I don't consider myself a "critic". I am a designer that likes to write and doesn't mind expressing his opinions. I probably fail miserably at this test.

> What good is being done by pointing fingers and moralizing in an industry where almost anybody, including you, can be the subject of this sort of complaint?

Ah, good, now we are getting somewhere. Because otherwise we are all just doing things without consideration for others. I don't mind being called upon any of the things I do or write. If someone disagrees they can point the finger -- this action can only help to inform my next step. Without these interactions we are just coasting on our own impressions of ourselves. As much as it is up to any of us to do as we please -- and we are more than happy to remind us that this is our right -- it's also up to us to question (and celebrate from time to time) those actions.

> I could point out that your Stop Being Sheep series is a waste of resources because the content is already available online, a far less wasteful medium. But it would be pointless—you’re a designer, and creating ephemera is what you do.

That's the problem. It's not pointless. If you wrote on your blog "Damn this Armin and his wasteful marketing techniques" and a dozen other people said the same thing, trust me, my ears would perk up and I would give more thorough consideration to whatever I did next. It is then my choice to decide what to do based on complaints or praises. Without them I have no way of knowing in which direction to go with increased certainty.

And these are the reasons why I don't mind putting myself in a position where what I say might be wrong, or getting mad at a dog for barking.

On Feb.24.2008 at 02:56 PM
james puckett’s comment is:

Probably not the point, but by generalizing…

You’re right and I apologize.

Without these interactions we are just coasting on our own impressions of ourselves.

I agree, but I think that this sort of questioning is better saved—and will be better received—when reserved for more thoughtless, even egregious, occasions. As you stated in the original post, you know that Sagmeister is very concerned about others. A designer in his place could have done far worse things than make art out of bananas. Shouldn’t there be times when you just cut a guy some slack? At what point does questioning turn into nitpicking?

On Feb.24.2008 at 04:51 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"Are bananas an endangered fruit?"

Heh. Actually, they are:


(to be fair, that's just one individual variety of the fruit)

100 Billion Cavendish bananas are consumed each year.

Stefan used 7,200 = %.0000072 of the annual crop.


I'm glad to see so much consideration for global food issues in here, but, really, Stefan isn't the guy you need to be concerned about. Go read one of Michael Pollan's books or something.

On Feb.25.2008 at 10:01 AM
Samuel’s comment is:

It'll be good if he used some plastic bananas in it, so after two weeks the real bananas will be brown and the plastics still yellow to reveal a new sentence.

On Feb.25.2008 at 02:14 PM
Jamie B’s comment is:

Joe Moran-I heard that story too

On Feb.25.2008 at 04:32 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

I still say YES to Sagmeister's always provocative design work (though not particularly this show - sorry), and NO to the designer who thinks questioning it is some smug morally superior whine.
I don't think so, sport. It's just a personal sense of reflection on the use of funds. He did what he did and that's that.

On Feb.25.2008 at 06:17 PM
Chad K’s comment is:

I wonder if it is because it is Sagmeister's exhibit that it got this sort of reaction. He did, after all produce other pieces of sensationalist-like design:

Or his 'Sagmeister on a Binge' piece where he ate an exorbitant amount of food.

Did anybody complain about all the coffee beans that went to waist in the production of this piece?

If any other designer would have produced this banana piece do you think it would have gotten a different reaction?

On Feb.25.2008 at 09:11 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Jamie B,

Was interesting, no? Not related to the "Meastro" per se (perse?), but related -- distantly. Ha!


On Feb.25.2008 at 09:53 PM
felix sockwell’s comment is:

Timing is everything, Armin. You showed up a few weeks late to this opening as well as the opening at AIGA/ FIT last week. I thought both event were excellent and thought provoking. The best piece (by far) was the one you decided not view: the process video in the steam room.

monkey boy: you can't judge the forest sitting in a banana tree.

Another great show form an inspired artist.

On Feb.26.2008 at 10:14 AM
adam’s comment is:

i really do not understand how some of these comments can compare a wall of bananas to "400,000 to 800,000 dead Iraqis are on your head". i mean, come on. are you serious?

On Feb.26.2008 at 06:53 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

For no particular reason: Ikea PS Gullholmen

On Feb.27.2008 at 09:32 AM
Drew Pickard’s comment is:

This is possibly the saddest example of selfish, navel-gazing, ignorant reactionism I've ever seen on a design blog.

For all of those decrying his use of BANANAS in his art - I would like to know how much time and money you have specifically given to 'the world' or to the homeless.
What have you given up?
How many paper towels have you wasted?
How many gallons of gasoline have you burned?
How many kilowatt hours have you wasted staring at the tv or surfing the internet, arguing in design forums about subjective topics?
How much money have you spent on goods or services that are either wasteful or the product of exploitive commercialism?

I'd bet it's more than $2000.

So what's criminal?
His art or the victims of your own quest for personal comfort?

Sagmeister - I would say that this entire discussion proves that your art is successful. Maybe, like Christo, your art is not about the thing but about the process and people's visceral reactions to it.
If that's true - you've succeeded with people who have yet to even see the actual object.

On Feb.28.2008 at 04:35 PM
Robynne’s comment is:

Sagmeister should call his next book "Massive Banana Attack".

On Feb.28.2008 at 05:49 PM
Robert’s comment is:

Isn't that already a gay porno?

On Feb.28.2008 at 05:49 PM
Kevin Hopp’s comment is:

Armin, Armin, Armin...

? ? ?

On Feb.29.2008 at 04:47 PM
David E.’s comment is:

I agree that this is not a waste of bananas. People dont grow bananas to feed the world, they grown them for the same reason people do graphic design: to make a profit. To put the burden of feeding the world on the shoulders of people who grow (or buy) food is arbitrary.

Still, Im not sure the exhibit doesn't stink as much figuratively as it does literally.

On Mar.06.2008 at 02:19 PM
leMel’s comment is:

Heh, the primary use of bananas is not eating, but reproduction of other banana trees.

(Although the bananas we eat in America are sterile, and because of that and temperature increases, the plants are actually near extinction)

I don't like the waste of food, I'm not the biggest fan of his commercial work, and I think this is a good discussion, but I'm not sure Mr. Sagmeister really deserved to be villainized...for this? No.

On Mar.06.2008 at 06:38 PM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

Yeah, I could've done without the questioning of Sagmeister's carbon footprint. Especially from someone who openly admits to wasting so much energy. Bananas are renewable.

On Mar.06.2008 at 11:31 PM
Yael Miller’s comment is:

The negative sort of reaction to the banana exhibit has more to do with who Sagmeister is and his timing (in light of global environmentalism) than the actual waste of bananas.

We always waste things. Sagmeister, in fact, was thoughtful enough to 'offset' his banana consumption with a meaningful donation to a worthy cause.

So, I don't think he was wrong. I do think he did generate some bad karma because he is a rock-star level designer and someone like him should be an impeccable example of responsible use of resources - especially imported fruit on that scale.

If someone else would do it (not as influential) they might get criticism, but Stefan is in a uniquely powerful position to influence and set examples.

I don't see why he couldn't have had the exhibit taken down earlier as soon as they all went ripe-yellow (and did not rot yet) and given them out to visiting guests? I for one wouldn't turn down a fresh, ripe banana if offered one.

On Mar.27.2008 at 07:55 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Thus spake Elizabeth: Bananas are renewable.

Not so much.

On Jun.18.2008 at 05:30 PM