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Creative inspiration often strikes at the most unexpected times — in the shower, while out for a walk or lying on the sofa — and with depressingly less frequency at the office when workers are actually paid to generate it. But business travel can be fertile ground for discovering creative ideas for work or even a new business, many travelers say…

The reason travel spurs inspiration is the stimulus, said Jeannine McGlade, co-author of “Stimulated! Habits to Spark Your Creative Genius at Work.”

“When you’re in a new environment, you have what we call ‘eyes wide open,’ ” she said. “It’s not the ‘same old, same old’ where you tend to get into a rut and aren’t alert to having a ‘spark moment.’ Things are different and fresh during travel. You’re seeing things from a different perspective and you’re really paying attention…”

Rob Sherlock, chief creative officer, at Draftfcb added: “The best ideas and thoughts come when you’re outside of the office. If you live in a predictable way it’s a path of absolute sameness.”

But if budget or schedule preclude traveling regularly, don’t worry, Ms. McGlade said. Find small ways to get stimuli from a variety of sources. Read a variety of books and magazines, engage in a range of activities, socialize with different people and nurture your curiosity.

Sharon McDonnell
New York Times


Review of the current show at the Tate Modern: Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia (through May 26):

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917. (image courtesy of Succession Marcel Duchamp/ Paris and DACS)

Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia begins as a romp. It is full of surprises, a pantomime of nonsense symbolism, in-jokes, sexual images and wordplay of an often furtive, farcical and even bestial sort, leavened by intellectual cool (at least on Duchamp’s part), anarchism, nihilism (Picabia’s intellectual forte) and chess.

This is a very large exhibition, with more than 300 works: paintings, photographs, sculptures, readymades, films, chess sets, and a wealth of documentary material. There is much here I was previously unaware of. The show takes us from the early years of the 20th century to 1976, when the last of the trio, Man Ray, died. In between, there are shocks and surprises, dirty pictures and beautiful enigmas.

I thought I would be bored by Duchamp’s bicycle wheel, tired of his porcelain urinal and exhausted by the Large Glass. It is impossible not to hear a lecture on their relevance rolling round one’s head; the shock, never mind the thrill, has gone, and they have become icons, which in a way is their tragedy. Duchamp himself would have been bored. He would probably have been happier to hear the splenetic complaints of people who think that readymades are not art. He once told Richard Hamilton that he liked signing the bottle racks and snow shovels and other examples of readymades that people bought him, because it undermined the originals.

Yet, because of the atmosphere of exhilarating iconoclasm that pervades the early part of the show, these sacred relics regain something of their playfulness, and begin to look like images from a lost, more innocent world. Man Ray’s coat-hanger mobile floats in space; Duchamp’s snow shovel dangles from the ceiling with it, as though a riposte; Duchamp’s wooden Hat Rack swims through the air like an octopus with curly wooden tentacles. Man Ray’s Cadeau (or Gift), his best-known surrealist object – the flat iron with a row of nails welded to it – has become a stock object in surrealism’s thrift store of the subconscious, to be set alongside Dalí’s lobster telephone. This is a sad but inevitable fate.

Museums kill the things they love. In the context of this show, it is Man Ray who looks the weakest today. His Venus, bound in rope bondage, begins to look like an illustration to some essay on the male gaze. And if Picabia’s work has also suffered in the years since his death in 1953, it has been largely by neglect.

As well as charting the careers of the three artists, the exhibition traces their friendship, enthusiasms and the influence they had on one another. What we have here is a conversation in art that continued throughout their lives, with Duchamp the pivotal figure. Yet all three gained: they looked out for each other, indulged one another, egged each other on. Perhaps we might see them as the art world’s rat pack. What the exhibition also makes clear is that each retained their artistic independence; their voices and styles are never confused in the way that Picasso and Braque’s cubist-period works might be. Nor were Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia three stooges: they shared no programme and invented no movement. And although they were associated with dadaism and surrealism, they each went their own way, with panache…

This exhibition and its accompanying catalogue do much to bring the complications, developing attitudes and complexities of these three artists to life. It also highlights changing social mores and the ways art has been made over the past century. Rather than presenting us with closure and academic posturings, Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia makes the best of their art look vital again, dangerous and alive.

Adrian Searle
Guardian Unlimited

In Buddhist tradition “the stopping mind” refers to the tendency to fixate on things, ideas or experiences, and thus impede acceptance of the transitoriness of everything, ourselves included.

But that notion grew out of societies that never envisioned a high-tech, commerce-driven culture such as ours that prizes incessant motion and change both for their own sake and as fuel for the profit system.

Addicted to speed, we need help stopping: not in fear or paralysis, but in a mode that gives us pause to sort out what we see and feel. We need relief from our own glib knowingness, which lets us glide through the element of surprise in daily life.

Hence our need for the arts, especially the arts of our own time, which respond to our condition implicitly and sometimes explicitly.
I started out as a critic in a world slower than this one – no Internet, no credit cards, no cash machines – yet already jet-propelled. At the very outset, I encountered the then-new tendency – minimal sculpture – that tried to make the arresting quality of art the entirety of its content.

Confronted with a piece such as Carl Andre’s “Voltaglyph 20” (1997) – which closely resembles things he made 30 years earlier – I felt that it left me nowhere to go – in interpretation, in emotional response, in conversation. Yet as sculpture, it somehow convinced me.

(Photo courtesy of Haines Gallery)

Writing my way out of that apparent cul-de-sac left me with heightened alertness to the interruptions built into artworks: passages that slow the movement of attention through the work’s structure or toward a clear idea of its meaning.

Other factors also played a part. Art institutions, including the market, quickly absorbed the shock delivered by the utter inertia of work by Andre and other New York artists of his generation. Yet even to those long familiar with Andre’s work, a stony absurdity close to the heart of it can still obtrude itself unexpectedly and induce a blush of self-consciousness about the whole business of dwelling on art objects.

Few visual artists working in more complex idioms can cause the kind of comprehensive full stop that Andre contrived. But complexity in art – in good work, anyway – usually entails some choreographing of the work’s reception.

Consider a photograph by Lee Friedlander, whose retrospective comes to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in February. A black-and-white shot of an apple tree under snow, it might have risen no higher than Christmas-card banality. But Friedlander’s choice of viewpoint and lens and his tuning of the print produced an image that not only precludes our entering into it sentimentally but also continually drives the eye back to the picture surface graphically.

The medium’s inherent realism draws the eye into the image space, but it rebounds again and again to the powerful, effectively abstract network of forms at the picture plane. A momentary stoppage occurs – like the still point at the apex of a parabola – with each volley of attention. It is as if Friedlander forces us to reassemble the image repeatedly in order to see it.

With every such interruption of what we may prefer to imagine as a seamless flow of perception, we contact an inner silence that ordinarily we may not hear at all: a momentary clearing in the pervasive cultural fog of received opinion and inferred expectation.

Genuine shocks – an accident, sudden bad news – often produce a similar hiatus, making us feel cruelly isolated in our subjectivity. By providing this sort of radical interruption free of practical consequences, artworks allow us to grow more comfortable with it, even to appreciate it as a truth of experience.

The kind of interruption or stoppage I describe need not last long. It can do its work of aerating awareness in an instant or a cascade of instants. For this reason, the periodic laments we hear over the short spans of time people spend in front of individual artworks miss the point. The quality, not the duration of engagement, matters.

To a knowing hand, any medium may offer the means to contrive the rhythms of comprehension and arrest that the culture at large offers only in degraded form, if it’s offered at all.

Deborah Butterfield’s sculpture “Untitled (Rust)” (2004) shows how it can occur in assemblage. Butterfield constructs sculptures of horses – each one portraying a specific animal, she claims – from scrap metal or wood. A viewer of her work re-enacts in some measure the process of gaining, losing and regaining sight of the possibilities of forming an image in the round from components that in themselves suggest nothing horse-like whatsoever.

Often a viewer circling a Butterfield sculpture literally will stop and savor a vantage point from which the governing image seems to coalesce or to dissolve into abstraction or mere raw material.

Critical writing about art seldom describes well, and almost never exemplifies, the kind of respiration of reception I have tried to evoke. To find that in language, we have to turn to poetry.

Kenneth Baker
San Francisco Chronicle

Over the past decade, two facts have become increasingly obvious – that our ever-increasing consumption is wrecking the planet, and that continually chasing more stuff, more food and more entertainment no longer makes us any happier. Instead, levels of stress, obesity and dissatisfaction are spiralling.

So why is our culture still chasing, consuming, striving ever harder, even though we know in our sophisticated minds that it’s an unrewarding route to eco-geddon? New scientific studies are helping to reveal why. It’s our primitive brains. These marvellous machines got us down from the trees and around the world, through ice ages, famines, plagues and disasters, into our unprecedented era of abundance. But they never had to evolve an instinct that said, “enough”.

Instead, our wiring constantly, subliminally urges us: “Want. More. Now.” Western civilisation wisely reined in this urge for thousands of years with an array of cultural conventions, from Aristotle’s Golden Mean (neither too much, nor too little) to the Edwardian table-saying: “I have reached an elegant sufficiency and anything additional would be superfluous.”

Consumer culture ditched all that, though, constructing instead an ever more sophisticated system for pinging our primitive desire circuits into overdrive. It got us to the point where we created everything we need as a basis for contentment. Now it’s rushing us past the tipping point, beyond which getting more makes life worse rather than better. And it’s making our brains respond more weirdly than ever.

Our old wiring may condemn us to keep striving ever harder until finally we precipitate our dissatisfied demise. But, instead, we could learn to practise the comfortable art of “enough” in this overstuffed world. There is a broad armoury of strategies we can adopt to proof our brains against the pressure to pursue and consume too much, to work too hard and to feel constantly inadequate and underprivileged. The most fundamental of these is knowledge: forewarned is forearmed.

The Times

Ours are ominous times. We are on the verge of eroding away our ozone layer. Within decades we could face major oceanic flooding. We are close to annihilating hundreds of exquisite animal species. Soon our forests will be as bland as pavement. Moreover, we now find ourselves on the verge of a new cold war.

But there is another threat, perhaps as dangerous: We are eradicating a major cultural force, the muse behind much art and poetry and music. We are annihilating melancholia…

Why are most Americans so utterly willing to have an essential part of their hearts sliced away and discarded like so much waste? What are we to make of this American obsession with happiness, an obsession that could well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation? What drives this rage for complacency, this desperate contentment?

Surely all this happiness can’t be for real. How can so many people be happy in the midst of all the problems that beset our globe — not only the collective and apocalyptic ills but also those particular irritations that bedevil our everyday existences, those money issues and marital spats, those stifling vocations and lonely dawns? Are we to believe that four out of every five Americans can be content amid the general woe? Are some people lying, or are they simply afraid to be honest in a culture in which the status quo is nothing short of manic bliss? Aren’t we suspicious of this statistic? Aren’t we further troubled by our culture’s overemphasis on happiness? Don’t we fear that this rabid focus on exuberance leads to half-lives, to bland existences, to wastelands of mechanistic behavior?

I for one am afraid that American culture’s overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society’s efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

Eric G. Wilson
Chronicle of Higher Education

Ned Rifkin forgot his notes, which proved to be no problem for the man best known as the undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian Institution. He let the images of art projected on a large screen guide him through what he wanted to say last Monday as keynote speaker of the Sculpture in Public Conference, subtitled “Sculpture Parks and Gardens”…

Closing today, the sold-out conference, which opened Monday, was organized by the International Sculpture Center in New Jersey and held in Seattle as a tribute to the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

Such an event, of course, is all about sculpture, but Rifkin doesn’t like the word, finding it useless in a 21st-century context.

If he had his notes, he would have read the current dictionary definition of sculpture, that dates from the 14th century: “the action of processing hard materials into works of art.”

Twentieth-century art left this definition behind, beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades,” common objects the artist asserted were art — such as a urinal, a shovel and a bicycle wheel.

Then there was sculpture as a spiral monument (Vladimir Tatlin); a self-destroying machine (Jean Tingueley); metal activated by wind (Alexander Calder’s mobiles), and onward to squares impersonating the floor (Carl Andre); heavy metal cathedrals for one (Richard Serra); a pickled shark (Damien Hirst); and a giant puppy made of flowers (Jeff Koons).

When Christo and Jean Claude wrapped a coastline in fabric and Maya Lin dug into the earth for a black granite memorial to Vietnam War dead, what could sculpture be but an endlessly wide series of experiences?

Just as Susan Sontag was “Against Interpretation,” Rifkin is against definition, and yet just as she interpreted, he defines. He’s a curator. Which artists he selects for exhibitions is a definition of value, a declaration of boundaries and an expression of faith.

The word sculpture is not a problem for anybody. As Rifkin noted, making sculpture while pushing past its dictionary meanings was handily done a century ago. Today, sculpture is just another word that has managed to survive its conceptual pull date. It carries on as a symbol of a boundary blown, like a flag still flying after its country disappeared.

Artists from the Olympic Sculpture Park figured in Rifkin’s speech, especially Calder, who learned from making small circus figures from wire how to set abstract planes afloat on the currents of the air. Rifkin praised not only Calder’s “mobiles” but his “stabiles,” such as “Eagle” poised near the bridge crossing Elliott Avenue West. While stationary, it’s full of implied motion.

A few artists attend these conferences, but most people filling the seats are art administrators and curators.

Through Wednesday, they can be found around town looking at art and possibly wearing their conference badges. Blue is for museum director or curator. Yellow is for art administrator, and orange is for city planner or arts advocate.

Rarely spotted is the green badge, for someone who “just loves art” and is willing to pay $450 to hear artists and curators talk about it. How popular people of the green badge must be at conference cocktail parties, a ringing affirmation of the delusional idea that art talk can be as interesting as art itself.

Regina Hackett
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

From Pipilotti Rist’s “Sip My Ocean”

I sit on the floor in front of a video installation by a thirty-seven-year-old Swiss artist named Pipilotti Rist. Entitled “Sip My Ocean,” Rist’s piece is a music video based on a Chris Isaak pop song called “Wicked Game.” In the video, Rist, a former rock musician (which helps to distinguish her as a fine artist in Nobrow), sings Isaak’s song in a goofy, slightly hysterical-sounding voice, while the camera catches glimpses of the artist’s body underwater, in a tropical ocean, wiggling semi-erotically to the music. The video (actually two videos, joined at right angles on a large, L-shaped projection surface) is shot in the familiar MTV-surrealist style.

I ask myself the usual questions, strain to make the usual judgments. I slip out my once trusty slide rule of status and attempt to measure “Sip My Ocean.” Is this avant-garde or kitsch? Art or advertising? Good or bad? The old categories and hierarchies aren’t very useful here. This isn’t quite art and it isn’t quite advertising; it’s art that has been made out of the discourse of advertising. A video, which is neither art nor advertising but a hybrid of both, is repurposed and used to market . . . the artist herself. And yet you couldn’t really accuse Rist of “selling out.” Her installation isn’t really a commodity, though it’s made out of a commodity. Rist probably couldn’t sell this piece. (Why bother to buy it when you can watch it on TV?) Like many installation artists, Rist lives more on the patronage of museums and marketers like Hugo Boss than on the sale of her works.

The audience is at least as interesting to look at as the art is, and it seems to be aware of that. A few people carry into the Guggenheim an air of town-house seriousness–the earnestness with which one goes to “get” high culture at the Met or at the opera. But most people are here just to chill out and watch one another, secure in the knowledge that they are the culture…

“Sip My Ocean” is like a paradigm of a transaction that is going on everywhere in the room–the art of representing identity through commercial culture. In using a music video and a well-known pop song to sell herself to this audience, Rist is doing in a more dramatic way exactly what people in the audience are doing when they choose their clothing or buy CDs. When someone says about a painting or a music video or a pair of jeans, “I like this,” they make some sort of judgment, but it’s not a judgment of quality. It’s not as if you’re saying I prefer this suit to these jeans, and the fact that I make this distinction (which in the old days was a distinction of quality) says something about my status. In Nobrow, judgments about which brand of jeans to wear are more like judgments of identity than of quality. Brands are how we figure out who we are: “We have a Lexus.” “We have a Volvo.” “What kind of skateboard do you have? A Shorty’s? That’s cool.”

Fanship, brandship, and relationships are all a part of what the statement “I like this” really means. Your judgment joins a pool of other judgments, a small relationship economy, becoming one of millions that continually coalesce and dissolve and re-form around culture products–movies, sneakers, jeans, pop songs. Your identity is your investment in these relationship economies. Investments in certain tried-and-true properties are virtually risk-free but offer little return (saying you like the Rolling Stones resembles buying thirty-year Treasury bonds), whereas other investments are riskier but potentially more lucrative (such as saying you like Liz Phair: are you investing in her image as a strong rock chick, which is cool, or are you standing up for an indie sellout and cK jeans model, which would be uncool?). The reward is attention and self-expression (your identity is in some way enhanced by the culture product you invest in); the risk is that your identity will be overmediated by your investment and you will become like everyone else.

These cultural equities rise and fall in the stock market of popular opinion, and therefore one has to manage one’s portfolio with care. No value endures: the seeker of identity through culture has to take care to surf ahead to the next subculture before he is mediated out of existence. You want to be perceived as original but not so original that you are outside the marketplace of popular opinion. In the old high-low world, you got status points for consistency in your cultural preferences, but in Nobrow you get points for choices that cut across categories: you’re a snowboarder who listens to classical music, drinks Coke, and loves Quentin Tarantino; you’re a preppy who likes rap; you’re a chop-socky B-movie fan who prefers Frusen Glädjè to Häagen-Dazs, or a World Cup soccer fan who wears fubu and likes opera.

John Seabrook

Horn’s Library of Water in Stykkisholmur, Iceland

Horn has been a “permanent tourist” in Iceland from her home in New York for more than 30 years. Library of Water, her permanent installation in the small coastal town of Stykkisholmur, three hours from Reykjavik, has just opened to the public for the first time. Water has been “archived” from glacial sources in all parts of Iceland and decanted into a copse-like stand of transparent glass columns that have replaced the shelves where books were once stacked. Some of the columns are clear, others are opaque, with traces of ancient debris drifting in them. The debris is a reminder that the glaciers were formed many millennia ago and are rapidly receding. Horn describes Library of Water as “in some sense an end-game, since many of these sources will no longer exist in a matter of years”. But Vatnasafn, to give it its Icelandic name, isn’t primarily an ecological/political work; it isn’t agitprop.

Horn imagined Library of Water as a place for quiet observation and reflection, “a lighthouse in which the viewer becomes the light. A lighthouse in which the view becomes the light.” This connects it to her work of the past 30 years, which has ranged across drawing and sculpture to photography and essays, and whose guiding principle has been anonymity on the part of the artist and minimum intervention in the work’s execution. She has spoken many times of her “desire to be present and be a part of a place without changing it”. Detachment, humility and surrender, that is the ambition. She’s there, and then she isn’t there, like the weather…

Horn was born in 1955. There are now monuments to the achievement of artists just a generation older all over the United States. Following the model of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, the minimalist shrines range from James Turrell’s Quaker meeting house in Houston, to Donald Judd’s museumification of the entire town of Marfa, Texas, to Walter de Maria’s mile-wide Lightning Field in Quemada, New Mexico.

These are projects on a grand scale. Roni Horn’s Library of Water in Stykkisholmur (population 1,100) on the north-west coast of Iceland, on the other hand, is modest, unassertive and intended to serve the community rather than coerce it into an appreciation (or even a viewing) of the work of one of the more recondite practitioners of conceptual art. In addition to the two installations of Horn’s work – a rubber floor scattered with childishly rendered words in Icelandic and English, and the glacial water housed in its top-lit, floor-to-ceiling columns – the space will be used by the local community for activities ranging from yoga classes and AA meetings to gatherings of the local (women-only) chess association and reading groups.

The Guardian

Lama Anagarika Govinda says that “if we look at a landscape and imagine that what we see exists as an independent reality outside ourselves, we are the victims of an illusion. If, however, we see the same landscape represented in the work of a great artist, then—in spite of the fact that the painting creates the visual illusion of a landscape—we experience an aspect of reality, because we are conscious of the illusion and accept it as an expression of a real experience….The moment we recognize an illusion as illusion, it ceases to be illusion and becomes an expression or aspect of reality and experience.”

But what happens if the work of art is not an illusion, but is a life that is being lived? Is it still art? Or has it then become a matter of “right livelihood?” As Nancy Wilson Ross describes it, “if a job help us in our search for an understanding both of ourselves and of the world around us, then it is, for us, samma ajiva (right livelihood)—no matter how futile and crazy it may seem to our friends and neighbors.” This may very well describe what art does for its maker—at least in part, and for some makers.

Marcia Tucker
White Paper II

I’ll be off the grid for a week, returning on June 6.