Ingo Maurer, Designer Known as a Poet of Light, Dies at 87


Ingo Maurer, a German lighting designer who was Promethean in his delivery of illumination — fashioning lamps out of shattered crockery, scribbled memos, holograms, tea strainers and incandescent bulbs with feathered wings — died on Monday in Munich. He was 87.

His death, at a hospital, was announced by his company, Ingo Maurer GmbH, which said the cause was complications of a surgical procedure.

Mr. Maurer had a wonky fascination with technology that took nothing away from his reputation as a poet of light, as he was often described.

His first lamp, designed in 1966, was a large crystal bulb enclosing a smaller one. Called simply “Bulb” (his product names would become more fanciful), it won praise from the designer Charles Eames and in 1968 became part of the Museum of Modern Art’s collection in New York.

Mr. Maurer traveled to the United States in 1960, settling in San Francisco with his German girlfriend, Dorothee Becker, and working as a graphic designer. He was there for three years, soaking up Pop Art inspirations that resurfaced throughout his career.

“The Italians even thought he was Italian,” said Mariangela Viterbo, the head of a public relations firm in Milan, who met him in the late 1960s when he presented Bulb at a trade show in Turin. “In that period the big vision of modern design was Danish or Finnish. Ingo came with something more similar to our temperament — more ironic, more joyful. It made a difference.”

A crowning moment of disruption occurred at the 1994 Euroluce lighting fair in Milan, where Mr. Maurer introduced a chandelier made of suspended porcelain dish shards. The fixture was initially called “Zabriskie Point,” after the Michelangelo Antonioni film, which has a scene of a house exploding in slow-motion. At least one startled Italian visitor to the fair exclaimed, “Porca miseria!,” a phrase that translates roughly as “Dammit!” Mr. Maurer decided that he preferred that name for the chandelier.

Several Porca miserias! are still made, by hand, each year, but Mr. Maurer was never comfortable with the high price tag, upward of 30,000 pounds (about $38,000), as quoted by at least one website. He donated some of the profits to a family he once met in Aswan, Egypt.

Not everyone was charmed by his antic designs. Reviewing a 2007 retrospective of Mr. Maurer’s work at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in Manhattan, Ken Johnson wrote in The New York Times, “While some of his pieces are lovely to look at, his work in general is so precious and so busily eager to please that it will make you pine for the reproving austerity of the fluorescent-light Minimalist Dan Flavin.”

Paola Antonelli, the senior design curator at the Museum of Modern Art, disagreed.

“I’ve never seen anyone experiment with such abandon,” she said, “and experimentation is the opposite of wanting to please.”



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