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Porca Miseria! Hanging Lamp

This is a hanging lamp. It was designed by Ingo Maurer and manufactured by Ingo Maurer GmbH. It is dated 2000 and we acquired it in 2010. Its medium is glazed molded porcelain adhered to metal, stainless steel; halogen light source. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

The Porca Miseria! lamp is among the most recognizable and expressive of Ingo Maurer’s lighting designs.
Maurer is one of the most creative and respected lighting designers working today. Trained as a typographer and graphic artist in his native Germany, Maurer worked as a graphic designer in the United States for Kaiser Aluminum and IBM in 1960. He returned to Europe in 1963, where he refocused his attention to lighting design. Since then, he has created more than 150 different lights and lighting systems for diverse international venues, including fashion runways, public buildings, monuments, and private commissions. Combining unexpected materials and found objects with a variety of light sources, Maurer is a pioneer in the use of new lighting technologies and imaginative production techniques.
Porca Miseria! came about through a 1990 commission to design light sculptures for the owners of the Villa Wacker, on Lake Constance, a late 19th-century structure with interiors by Peter Behrens, one of the most important German Jugendstil designers. Among Maurer’s final pieces was the dining table lamp for the owners’ cool, sober, contemporary kitchen, the social center of the house. After failed experiments with paper-based lighting, Maurer created an object composed of broken white porcelain tableware, seemingly in motion, which developed an intricate play of light and shadow. The piece expressed energy, disorder—and even cheekiness—as an antidote to the spare, ordered space. The unnamed lamp, evocative of an explosion in a china closet, was constructed of shards of dishes, cups, and pieces of stainless steel cutlery attached to a structure composed of metal rods radiating from a central lighting element. About four years later, in 1994, Maurer created the next, more complex and dynamic version, which he showed at the Euroluce international lighting exhibition in Milan. A fan of cinematic explosions, Maurer first named the light Zabriskie Point, after the film in which director Michelangelo Antonioni blows up a castle in slow motion. When one Italian visitor saw the exploded shards and cutlery, he commented, “Porca miseria!” (a colloquial phrase meaning “What a disaster!”), and the delighted Maurer changed the name.
Despite the spontaneous look of the piece, it entails laborious and deliberate fabrication. There is a limited production of about 10 each year, each lamp requiring the work of four people over the course of one week. Ceramic wares are dropped or smashed with a hammer. The pieces—some as-is, others further broken and smoothed to more appropriate sizes and shapes—are carefully composed and mounted onto an armature. Each lamp is a unique version of Maurer’s riotous design.
Porca Miseria! was featured in Cooper-Hewitt’s 2007 exhibition, Provoking Magic: Lighting of Ingo Maurer. This gift would enhance the museum’s ability to tell the story of this innovative designer, as well as demonstrate developments in contemporary lighting forms and technologies.

This object was featured in our Object of the Week series in a post titled A Frozen Explosion.

This object was donated by Peter Norton. It is credited Gift of Peter Norton.

  • PH Artichoke Hanging Lamp
  • bent sheet copper, cast steel, enameled metal.
  • Museum purchase from General Exhibition Funds.
  • 1983-16-1
  • Hanging Lamp
  • glass, metal.
  • Museum purchase through the gift of Mary A. Hearn, William Hindley, R.H.....
  • 1968-94-1

Our curators have highlighted 11 objects that are related to this one. Here are three of them, selected at random:

  • Garland Pendant Lamp
  • silver-plated photographically etched stainless steel.
  • Gift of Artecnica.
  • 2007-38-1-a/c
  • Kettle And Stand (England)
  • copper, brass, ebony (kettle), wrought iron (stand).
  • Museum purchase from the Decorative Arts Acquisition Fund.
  • 1990-167-1-a/d

Its dimensions are

H x W x D: 114.3 x 101 x 82.6 cm (45 x 39 3/4 x 32 1/2 in.)

Cite this object as

Porca Miseria! Hanging Lamp; Designed by Ingo Maurer (German, b. 1932); Manufactured by Ingo Maurer GmbH (Germany); Germany; glazed molded porcelain adhered to metal, stainless steel; halogen light source; H x W x D: 114.3 x 101 x 82.6 cm (45 x 39 3/4 x 32 1/2 in.); Gift of Peter Norton; 2010-16-1

We have 1 video that features Porca Miseria! Hanging Lamp.

Behind the Scenes: Porca Miseria Chandelier

Conservator Annie Hall and Curator Cindy Trope talk about the origin story of the Porca Miseria Chandelier, as well as the conservation and storage challenges associated with it.

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Making Design.

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