Written by ART Driven Tokyo
Photo Mitsumasa Fujitsuka

Don’t get too depressed, mankind, we have come a long way since 200 years ago!

Graphic artist Stefan Sagmeister’s solo exhibition Now is Better in Ginza, Tokyo, will make you think, “Humans are not so bad after all,” and will confirm the progress of mankind and put you in a positive frame of mind. In a time when the earth is in a state of depression with the daily news of global warming and war, Sagmeister encourages us at ginza graphic gallery (ggg), through October 23, 2023. (The exhibition ended.)


Sagmeister, known for his ironic and shocking expressions, calls Now is Better exhibition “the most life-affirming exhibition ever.” The exhibition was shown at the Patrick Parrish Gallery in New York this past May. ggg  is the gallery specializing in graphic design run by DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, located in the heart of Ginza, the most prestigious art district in Japan. With clients such as the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, and the Guggenheim Museum, Sagmeister has gained a great success. Originally from Austria, he now lives and works in New York City.

New Yorker Sagmeister repeatedly and persuasively states that “Now is Better.”

The exhibition: Two documentary films, graphic art, and the installation. Sagmeister drilled holes in the 19th-century paintings from his Austrian family’s stock in trade and filled the hollow with lacquered wood.

The embedded part is a graph. It shows how mankind has progressed and overcome difficulties over the past 200 years, with figures, and Sagmeister repeatedly and persuasively states that “Now is Better.”

“More life than death. More to eat than to starve. Knowledge rather than ignorance. “

Artists, Lawyers and Doctors
Number of artists, lawyers and doctors in the US
Historic oil on canvas, with contemporary inserts, lacquered wood, 2023

Artists, Lawyers and Doctors 2023- The graph, which gets larger as it moves toward the left, shows the ratio of professions in the U.S. that have a significant stake in human progress, such as artists, lawyers, and doctors.

In the movie Beautiful Numbers (4min. 31sec.), one of the two films in the exhibition, Sagmeister says that of the ten children of his ancestors, Jacob and Johanna, only six came of age. He said that his grandmother, Josephine, was the first woman in her family to receive the right to vote, and that this was in 1919, when she was already 42 years old. Sagmeister: I think everyone agrees. ”More life than death. More to eat than to starve. Knowledge rather than ignorance. Democracy rather than dictatorship. Health rather than sickness. And peace rather than war.”

Sagmeister also says,”The headline ‘135,000 people out of extreme poverty today’ could, in fact, appear in the news every day.” Everything can be measured and everything has been improved. He appeals to the fact that numbers allow us to be objective.

Clients include the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. He got it all. But he lost love.

Doing/ Dumping
The amount of greenhouse gases produced by activities
Historic oil on canvas, with contemporary inserts, lacquered wood, 2023

Doing/ Dumping 2023-The rectangles with rounded edges indicate the percentage of human activity that produces gases. 31%: Making things, Cement/steel/plastic, 25%: Plugging in, Electricity, 19%: Growing things, Animals/plants, 16%: Getting around, Cars/planes/ships, 7%: Keeping warm and cool, Heating/cooling. Source: Bill Gates, How to avoid a Climate Disaster. The dimly lit background and rough waves seem to express the anxiety of mankind, which seems to be heading for destruction due to severe climate change.

Yes, if you let yourself be flooded with information of smartphones and PCs, the world today seems to be filled with tragedy. The collapse of democracy, recurring wars, climate change and natural disasters that engulf various parts of the world, and the relentless and indiscriminate killings…

Sagmeister made ‘The Happy Film’ to be happy with his friends. He realized that more than honor or money, it’s love.

The exhibition features The Happy Film 2016, 1h 35m, a documentary film about Sagmeister’s depression and resurrection. Sagmeister was extremely blocked up after losing his mother and breaking up with his girlfriend of 11 years. He tried to be happy. He talked to a psychologist and made a plan to be happy.

He went to Bali and meditated. He measured his happiness level daily. At first, he felt empty in Sydney, but the psychologist taught him the Buddhism teaching: Happiness arises from within. He realized that to be happy, he needed friendship and love more than money or successful status or honor. He made the film with his friends.

Then he realized. Now is Better.

Punching holes in his ancestors’ stock-in- trade and making new art. Exciting expressions are strongly alive

Money to Learn
Public education spending in developed nations as percentage of GDP, 1880-2000
Historic oil on canvas, with contemporary inserts, lacquered wood, 2023

Money to Learn 2023- The circles that get larger as go down indicate the fact that the percentage of education spending is steadily increasing. The paintings that served as the base material were kept by his ancestors, who were antique dealers. It was an exciting idea to boldly cut a hole in it and turn it into a new art.

Sagmeister’s graphic design was always inspiring. His art direction for the Rolling Stones’ Bridges to Babylon was his masterpiece, a lion with a human head and beard. The artist’s exciting expressions are strongly alive.

Graphic art, which is more art than art, combined Western logic and Eastern serenity

American Dirt, CO2 emissions per person in the USA, 1820-2020, Historic oil on canvas, with contemporary inserts, lacquered wood, 2023

The Air that I Breathe
People dying from air pollution around the world, 1990-2018
Historic oil on canvas, with contemporary inserts, lacquered wood, 2023

Sagmeister expressed what humanity needs to improve. He combines the Western strength of overcoming difficulties through the power of logic with the Eastern value of seeking inner peace.

In fact, New Yorkers overcame the 9.11 terrorist attacks and even the Lehman Shock vividly and quickly, and continue to be convinced of human progress; art fans who missed it in New York should definitely visit this excellent exhibition of graphic art, which is more art than art.

Exhibition Overview

Venue: DNP Ginza Building 1F, B1F
7-2, Ginza 7-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
TEL: 03.3571.5206 

Period: August 30-October 23, 2023

Open hours: 11:00am – 7:00pm

Admission: free
Closed: Sundays and holidays

Exhibition website: https://www.dnpfcp.jp/CGI/gallery/schedule/detail.cgi?l=2&t=1&seq=00000823

Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister has designed for clients as diverse as the Rolling Stones and the Guggenheim Museum. He’s a two time Grammies winner and also earned practically every important international design award. While his work is steeped graphics, he has also directed a film, created furniture, made products, designed a watch and ventured into clothing.
 His books sell in the hundreds of thousands and his exhibitions have been mounted in dozens of museums around the world. His exhibit ’The Happy Show’ attracted way over half a million visitors worldwide and became the most visited graphics show in history. 
A native of Austria, he received his MFA from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and, as a Fulbright Scholar, a master’s degree from Pratt Institute in New York.

His works are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Applied Arts (Vienna, Austria), and many other museums.