Confessions of a Light Addict

Ingo Maurer’s so-called “addiction to light” began many years ago in Venice when the then-graphic designer had a tad too much white wine during a leisurely lunch. After returning to his room for a nap, Maurer was taken by the sight of a lone incandescent light bulb hanging from the ceiling. What could have been a drunken reverie turned instead into a revelation: Maurer determined that he would turn his sights to the medium of light. More than 40 years later, his work has been showcased all over the globe.

Ingo Maurer
Ingo Maurer

Maurer shared this story and several others at LIGHTFAIR 2011 in Philadelphia, PA, where he was interviewed by T: The New York Times Style Magazine design editor Pilar Viladas in the keynote presentation “Addicted to Light—Thank God for Shadows.” A self-described “designer, producer and seller” of light, the German-born Maurer and his team of 70 employees create light products and installations that “include the emotional and spiritual power of light. We are not a very commercial company,” he notes. “I do what I feel; I do not do something with the market in mind.” What’s more, in his studio “everything is done by hand, [so] nothing is the same.”

Maurer reflected on his one-of-a-kind designs, including his first work “Bulb” (1966), a table lamp in the shape of an incandescent lamp. “At the beginning it was more about form,” he commented. “Later, I discovered how important light is.” A turning point came in 1984, when he released the YaYaHo, a low-voltage wire system with halogen bulbs that was subsequently installed at the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Institut Francais d’Architecture in Paris, as well as the Villa Medici in Rome. In the following decade, Maurer produced some of his best-known works, including Lucellino (1992), a “winged” incandescent table lamp, Porca Miseria! (1994), a chandelier of broken porcelain, and Zettel’z (1997), a paper mobile chandelier.

Recently, Maurer has embraced new technologies, such as SSL, introducing LED wallpaper in 2007 and one of the first OLED table lamps in 2008. But that doesn’t mean that he is unaware of their drawbacks. Of OLEDs, he says that “some people think that this is going to be the future; the light it makes is good, but it’s not yet strong enough [and] it’s a little bit monotonous.” Nor does it mean that he has abandoned his first love—the incandescent lamp. In fact, Maurer has been a staunch advocate of the incandescent and a fierce critic of its proposed replacement, the CFL. “I think the light [CFLs] make is awful,” says Maurer, who recommends that lawmakers “rethink” the existing and impending incandescent legislation. He looks to the design community to lead the way. “It’s our obligation . . . not just to [run] a business but to make people happy and to give with light—and we have so many possibilities nowadays—another dimension [with] more feeling.”