Brilliant Minds

It is always a joy to look at some of the brilliant innovators in our society. Here are five that stand out.

John Bisbee's inspiration for his sculpture began with a bucket of nails, which he discovered near an abandoned house. Tired of pottery and unsure of where to turn, he began his life-long obsession with the humble nail. He now lives in Maine, an iconoclast among other individualists. With its rich history in religious iconograpy, the nail is actually a dense source of reference. Bisbee's sculptures are exceptional.

Cai Guo-Qiang has emerged as one of the ablest of contemporary Chinese artists. Now living in New York City, he originally produced "Gunpowder Drawings" by igniting a fuse and setting off a gunpowder explosion. The resultant blackened surfaces are haunting, and remind us that China was the source of gunpowder. There are also inevitable echoes of the Atomic Bomb. His newest exhibition is filling the vast domed space at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, a task that has daunted many another artist. "Inopportune" combines violence, motion, consumerism and falling. In addition, the Guggenheim has produced a video of the project as it was being installed.

"Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe" was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City and now on television. The film focuses primarily on Wagstaff and his journey from advertising executive to prominent art collector. Wagstaff's interest was first peaked by late-nineteenth century photography, anonymous as well as attributed. Eventually the Getty Museum bought the entire collection. The film is most valuable as a source for viewing Wagstaff's collection. Its bias against Mapplethorpe, however, seems to weaken its impact. The photographer is described as primarily a money-hungry fame-starved artist who used Wagstaff to attain a status that he never would have achieved otherwise. Sadly both Mapplethorpe and Wagstaff died of AIDS at the height of the epidemic in New York. Whatever your beliefs, the movie is well-worth seeing. The official movie website, with clips, is available at

William McDonough is the recipient of three U.S. Presidential awards and is an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He might also be described as the Michael Moore of architecture. Frequently called an ecological architect, he is passionately concerned with buildings that combine the needs of economics and ecology, using materials that can be endlessly recycled. His current project involves designing "entire sustainable cities" in China. This video clip, from his presentation at the TED conference in Monterey, California, highlights his fascinating mind along with a wonderfully dry wit.

Any discussion of contemporary architecture has to take into account the genius of Frank Gehry, who has just designed a Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi. His own description of his life's work includes some wonderful asides: "I made furniture that nobody would like". "This model ... is pretty awful and I was ready to commit suicide when this was built". A talk by him filmed in 1990 has just been uploaded this year. Although the early slides are a bit dark, bear with him because his delightful comments only get better as he moves along. For examples of the Museum proposal, look here:

c.Corinne Whitaker 2008