Reflections on The Happy Show

I was lucky enough to catch The Happy Show by Stefan Sagmeister while it was at the Chicago Cultural Center. This was the first time I’d actually been inside the building, although I’ve passed it many times, and the top floor exhibition space was just stunning.

There were three different components to the exhibit; the first was the “happy” part, which was comprised primarily of uncited statistics related to happiness. For example, here is one on relationships and happiness. It was nice that the artist noted that correlation doesn’t equal causation! “Married couples do report to be overall happier in surveys than single people, but nobody seems to know if this is a chicken and egg question, i.f., if happier people are just more likely to get married.:

As a social scientist, this part of the exhibition felt more like a great data visualization than art. I especially loved this comment by the artist on how he cherry-picked the stats for his visualization:

Because the walls were all painted yellow, it was as if the entire space was part of the exhibition. For example:

One interesting installation was a row of gumball canisters, where people could dispense gumballs based on their level of happiness. I was somewhat surprised to see that there were a lot of people who chose 7, 8, and 10. I suppose that is a good thing, but I wonder if it is also biased because how likely would it be that a very unhappy person go to an art exhibition about happiness? Note the non-normal distribution!

There was also a table where you could draw things that make you happy. Below, you can see my illustration. I wrote “Happiness is going to a great art exhibit and taking a picture of someone taking a picture of the art.


The second part of the exhibition was a number of contemporary installations that I breezed through because I have very little understanding of, or appreciation for contemporary art.

The last part of the exhibition involved huge inflated vinyl monkeys. They were in a space that was not re-designed with partitions; I liked the ornate moldings of the walls and how the architecture really provided a stark contrast to the artwork.

The exhibition did a really good job of facilitating interaction with visitors. It is rare that special exhibits allow photographs, but photographs were rather encouraged. I think this really increased the visibility of the exhibition, especially through social media.

The Tumblr account for the exhibition:
More Flickr photos here from my visit, all taken with an iphone:

Photos from the exhibition when it was at the ICA:


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