German Designers

Ingo Maurer – a Romantic with Light Dreams

„Bulb“, 1966, Copyright: Ingo Maurer/Photo: Tom Vack

Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Copyright: Ingo Maurer/Photo: Deidi van Schaewen

„Crystal“, Unicef New York, Copyright: Ingo Maurer/Photo: Deidi van Schaewen

Münchner Freiheit underground station, Munich, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

„Don Quixote“, 1989, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

„Zetttel'z”, 1997, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

„Blushing Zettel'z“, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

„1.002 Lights blue!“, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

Maurer‘s projects rank amongst the successes in the history of design. Technical innovation, inspiration, design vision and a philosophically romantic spirit consolidate into a language of symbolism that is just as much an expression of a personal handwriting style as a concept of a universal history of design and culture.

His works proclaim the adventure of light, the search for its origin in the history of nature and mankind.
His products are increasingly developing a life of their own: they react to touch and change their physiognomy with each new adjustment. They are not symbols of technology that can be controlled by the user, they are artefacts with personalities of their own.
The designer is revolutionising the concepts of space and lighting with his designs and light installations, and having a seminal effect on a new generation of lighting designers.

Myths combine philosophy, depth psychology and the ability to tell a story. Ingo Maurer is successful in inventing modern myths with his works, in which his light designs play a major role.
They are frequently places of historical significance, such as the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, for which he created a galaxy of light emblazoned with ornaments and wordplay slogans, or his Crystal Snowflake made out of 16 000 crystals for a Unicef project in New York.
For the conversion of a Gothic church into a hotel in Maastricht, Maurer erected a four-metre-tall cylinder of softly illuminated water in the centre of the cloister and in it he had long vortices spiralling through the water.
From graphic artist to light designer
It fits in with the modest image of the “poet of light” that he refers to himself as self-taught, even though he has ranked amongst the most important product designers internationally for many years.
In fact the artist, who was born in 1932 on the island of Reichenau on Lake Constance, only turned his hand to product design after an apprenticeship as a typographer and graphic designer. After a formative period of three years as a freelance designer in New York and San Francisco, where he was involved in the start of the Pop Art movement among other things, Maurer founded the Design M studio in a backyard in Munich in 1966.

To date Maurer has been producing his designs himself, free from the constraints of a brand label. His limited company has now grown into a medium-sized business with more than 70 employees. His close connection with his employees is one of the reasons why he doesn’t want to leave Munich.
To bring to mind the origin of “light” and to regenerate his creativity he withdraws from civilisation into the Egyptian desert near Sakkara.

Even his first design Bulb from 1966, an oversized light bulb made from mouth-blown glass with a chrome-plated plinth, inside which there is a conventional light bulb, changed the concept of lighting for ever.
Ingo Maurer liberated the lamp from the lampshade and base and created an object that is reduced to the light source and is reminiscent of the enlarged everyday items by American pop artist Claes Oldenburg. As a counterpoint to his earlier design, he created the ceiling light with the cryptic title Wo bist Du, Edison...? (Where are you, Edison?) in 1997.
Its lampshade projects a hologram of the historic light bulb invented by the American Thomas Edison in 1879. The light is hidden in the fixture to which the lampshade supports are fitted.
An image of the inventor is concealed in the cross-section of this fixture, a screw-thread light-bulb holder.
Everyday urban spaces
Ingo Maurer and his team also design everyday urban spaces: offices, workshops and train stations. At Munich's underground station Westfriedhof there are eight huge domes of light hanging over the platform, metallic on the outside, and red, yellow and blue on the inside.
The people walking through the beams of light look like actors momentarily passing across a stage.
Anybody going to Munich should try to see this station - young and old alike are caught up in the romantic magic of this work. For underground stations in Karlsruhe he used an overhead electrical system with fluorescent tubes, reflector lamps and powerful LEDs that can each produce over a million colours.

Musical lightness is the characteristic of the low-voltage halogen system "YaYaHo", designed in 1984, symbolising a new sense of space and light.
Sold in modular construction kits, this system is extremely flexible, giving the user a scope for improvisation that was previously unimaginable. It has been used to illuminate the Centre Pompidou, among other places.
Anecdotes, humour and arabesques
Maurer’s designs, some of which are strictly minimalist and some which have anecdotal embellishment, reflect the past and have a story to tell. They include lamps such as Lucellino, the light-bulb with little white wings (when the wings are touched, the lamp lights up) and the table lamp Don Quixote, which bears a striking resemblance to caricatures of the haggard knight from Cervantes' epic work.

The Zettel'z lamp is lyrical in the literal sense. Metal rods are arranged like rays around the central body of light, and on them, pieces of paper with poems, notes and aphorisms are held in place by paper clips. Ingo Maurer uses a similar design principle when he has china place settings with cups and a coffee-pot exploding and shattering around a light source – a breathtaking sight.

Some of his most complex works are flying carpets and screens made from light diodes from the One Thousand and One Lights series, which spell out an upbeat alphabet of arabesque characters. By contrast works such as Campari Light, made from bottles full of Campari, and the Mozzkito lamp, made from an over-the-counter tea strainer, are surprising in their simplicity.
Atomium in Brussels and retrospective in New York
Ingo Maurer was commissioned with the lighting concept for the renovation of the Atomium in Brussels, and since April 2006 the monument with its spheres 18 metres in diameter has been ablaze with light, bathing the city in a futuristic glow. Inside, light cells with a cosmic feel give the impression of moving around a spaceship. He has little robot beings dangling down under a beam of light and mischievously calls it Friendly Intrusion from Outer Space.

„Tableaux Chinois“, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

„OLED Table“, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

Atomium in Brussels, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

Ingo Maurer, Copyright: Ingo Maurer

In 2007 the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Smithsonian Institution in New York dedicated a large-scale retrospective to Ingo Maurer – which has now been showered with international designer awards and an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art.

In the antique wood-panelled halls of the building, which dates from the early 20th century, the lights were arranged in a suggestive spatial installation with the title Provoking Magic. The New Yorkers, for whom light plays a special role – this is where the age of electricity began because it was the first city to be electrified in the 1880s – celebrated the event with pride and admiration.

As of 2009 Ingo Maurer has set up a “studioshowroomwerkstattatelier” at his production site in the Schwabing district of Munich, which allows fascinating insight into his lighting art.


Christian Burchard
is employed by the Deutsches Museum and lectures at the University of Applied Sciences in Munich.

Translation: Jo Beckett
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
April 2009

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