There are plenty of companies that care enough about art to buy some for their office walls and lobbies. But few establish relationships with the artists themselves. Not so of Mullen/Long Haymes Carr, an advertising agency based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Not only did the agency commission an installation for the firm's corporate offices, but it also offered the artist, Stephen Hendee, a highly trafficked conference room — one that is often used by the company's creative team — as the installation site.
Hendee, a Newark, New Jersey-based artist whose work has been exhibited at P.S. 1, New York's celebrated alternative museum, as well as in solo and group gallery shows, creates evocative spaces with simple materials — pieces of backlit foamboard fused with black tape. For Mullen/LHC, he transformed one of the agency's most sterile rooms into a low-lit, cavelike den of inspiration.
"The colors I use to gel the lights are highly saturated," says Hendee, 33. "They stimulate the mind yet calm the body. And the geometric lines are also very stimulating. In low light, they create after-images, just like stained glass. It puts people in a different frame of mind than what they're used to, like being in a cavern or a cathedral.
"The people at Mullen/LHC are just inundated with commercial messages everywhere they turn," Hendee adds. "This room is totally devoid of that."
Stephen Zades, former CEO of LHC (before its merger with Mullen in January) and founder of the Odyssey Group, a creative consulting firm, thinks of the environment as a place where people can dream. "So many of the spaces we work and live in have become lifeless and boring," he says. "But the moment you enter this space, it produces a change both in mind and body. That's exactly the frame of mind needed for brainstorming and creative problem solving. It's one of the many lessons that contemporary art brings to the business world."
Bonnie Schwartz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.