The Art of
Airports discover their aesthetic and cultural destination
Sometimes it catches us off guard. Sometimes it is exactly what we need. Art always has an impact on us. Spanish architect, Luis Vidal, whose firm designed Heathrow’s T2 has said,“Airports are the cathedrals of the 21st Century; they are the gateways to nations, and serve a public function. That is why they must look into the future and adapt themselves to changes and challenges.”
In the past airports have been large industrial spaces that have allowed massive machines to move people from one destination to another. However, those landscapes – not to mention portraits and sculptures – are changing and today art is taking a solid hold in airports in every corner of the world.
Increasingly major international airports are home to large collections, exhibits and even entire museums. But they’re not the only ones who are recognizing the benefits of this movement. Here are just a few examples: Jacksonville, FL (JAX), Quad City International Airport (MLI) in western Illinois, Helsinki Airport (HEL), Amsterdam (AMS), Toulouse in France (TLS), Naples, FL, Municipal Airport (APF), Aukland, New Zealand (AUK) and a host of others dotting the globe.
“Airports are the entryways to our cities and provide the opportunity to connect directly with the community at large,” states the Jacksonville International Airport Arts Commission on their website. “The intention of the JAX Airport Art & Culture Program is to provide a positive distraction, to soothe and inspire, and to also educate visitors about the abundant artistic and cultural resources available within our service region.”
Aerodromes across the globe are seeking ways to delight the traveler. But they’re looking for an experience that goes beyond the typical food & beverage outlets and retail stores.
On a recent transfer through Atlanta Hartsfield airport, I was rushing to my connection. While I had plenty of time, I didn’t want to miss my flight. We’ve all been there. Tired. Ready to be home. As I walked through Concourse E, I was surprised by my own reaction to the art on the walls. I exhaled. Relaxed. Smiled. And was thankful to reset my mind.
Since then, I have learned The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport has an extensive arts program, which has been around since 1979. According to their website, the Airport Art Program develops and integrates art, exhibits and performances into the fabric of the airport environment for the benefit of passengers and employees.
The Art Program has three major components: commissioning artists to create site-specific artwork, presenting rotating exhibitions, and scheduling performing arts series.
The Youth Art Gallery (Concourse T) opened in the summer of 1997 and a second gallery opened a year later in the International Concourse (Concourse E). These galleries are coordinated by the Airport Art Program in partnership with the Georgia Art Education Association (GAEA) demonstrating a cooperative initiative and commitment to giving back to their community. For more information on additional rotating galleries check out atlanta-airport.com.
Hartsfield also hosts a permanent collection with over 250 pieces, which grew from a humble 14 pieces in 1979. The collection includes one of my favorite exhibits,“Zimbabwe: A Tradition in Stone.” This exhibit of 12 sculptures by 12 different artists can be found in the pedestrian corridor between the T Gates and Concourse A.
The works delve into the importance of family, humanity’s relationship with nature and desire to be spiritually connected, says the program’s website. The Art Program hopes that these common themes resonate with passengers of all backgrounds.
Recently, I had another connection through ATL and I decided to walk to my gate and skip the train so I could enjoy the exhibit. That walk was good for my mind, body and soul. As Pablo Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off of our souls.”
In July of 2012, Changi Airport in Singapore made a statement when they installed the Kinetic Rain sculpture in the refurbished Terminal 1. It’s made up of two separate segments, several yards apart. Each segment has 608 copper-plated aluminum raindrops, which weigh just 180 grams (6.3 oz) each. The raindrops are suspended by a thin wire.
Computer-controlled motors attached to the wires can move each raindrop up and
down independently, so that the elements form elaborate moving shapes. The installation is programmed to make the elements morph into 16 different shapes during a 15-minute loop, including flight-related forms such as airplanes, kites and hot air balloons.
It is the largest kinetic sculpture in the world. This fascinating work captures the attention and imagination of the millions passengers who pass through Changi Airport every year.
The Art of Reconnecting
In Mumbai, the newest T2 terminal opened in January 2014 with a wall of art know as Jaya He meaning“Glory to Thee.” Currently 2,000 objects are on view showing a history of India for those who live there and those who come to visit. The installation occupies 80,000 square feet and curves along the contours of the terminal building.
Included in the displays are delicately carved windows and doorways, totems, terracotta horses, wooden temple chariots, masks, sculptures of deities and much more which were sourced from villages, collectors and museums across India.
The exhibit’s opening prompted the curator to comment that there is a need for India’s citizens to be reminded of their history since the migration to cities had eroded some of the traditions of the past. This is a global story as cities continue to grow and our connection to the land and the past vanishes.
Mumbai’s exhibit will expand to 7,000 objects over time. There are works made from discarded beer bottle caps, which are stunningly mixed with many different art forms creating visual masterpieces. The exhibit has also imbedded technology into some of the displays so visitors can use their iPads to explore further a work of art or piece of history.
A neighbor just returned from Mumbai and was amazed and delighted at the beauty of what she saw in Terminal 2. She couldn’t put her finger on it until I asked her about the artwork. Quickly, she filled
my phone with pictures of her journey as she talked about the amazing art and history throughout the space. Her pride in her country of origin positively radiated d as she described in great detail the new terminal and all its beauty.
In Tokyo’s Narita Airport, the Japan Origami Museum is located in Terminal 1, Central Building, 3rd floor. There you will find over 400 works displayed, from traditional cranes and roses to southern belles and Star Wars fighters and more. The he detail in these works is remarkable.
Half a world away, the far less traveled but no less artistically-inclined Naples, Florida Municipal Airport welcomed its first exhibition in March. Here, the Harmon-Meeks Gallery exhibited a collection of floral watercolors by Gary Bukovnik. The art is on display in the airport’s General Aviation Terminal.
Loving Art and Liking It Too
In 2011, a Facebook page called“Arts in the Airport”was created. The page declares that “it is focused on all types of arts programs in airports throughout the world.”It goes on to urge travelers and art lovers alike to “explore, share and learn more here.‘Like’ this page and post images of arts – of all kinds – that you see in airports as you travel through them.”It is a great space to visit when you have an upcoming trip that may lead you to discover some new artistic experience that calls an airport home.
The same organization is hosting its 12th Annual Arts in the Airport Workshop from June 25- 27 in San Francisco. They chose San Francisco International Airport because of its imbedded SFO Museum. “SFO commits itself to providing its patrons with world-class facilities and customer service,”according to the airport’s mission statement.“To help meet this goal, SFO incorporates art throughout the terminals, fostering an environment that is both entertaining and educational.”
Currently, SFO is showing five exhibits which range from the playful to fascinating to historic to #avgeek. Included in this eclectic collection are Japanese Toys from Kokeshi to Kaiju; Turn, Weave, Fire and Fold,Vessels from the Forrest L. Merril Collection; San Francisco from the David Rumsey Map Collection; Doors: Entryways to World Cultures; and Jet Age Models from the collection of Anthony J. Lawler.
If you’re in SFO anytime soon, these exhibits are definitely worth a moment of your time. If you are an artist, an airport director or public art administrator, you may want to consider attending this conference to learn more about this thriving community.
This is London Calling
In June, the newly renovated terminal at Heathrow (T2) will open with a new sculpture by Richard Wilson that is integrated into the architecture of the site. At over 230 feet long, this sculpture, called Slipstream will be one of the longest permanent sculptures in Europe.
“Slipstream is inspired by the exhilarating potential of flight, coupled with the physical aesthetics of aircraft,”says Wilson.“Constructed in aluminum, the piece aimed to solidify the twisting velocity of a stunt plane maneuvering through the volume of the new terminal.”To gain a better understanding of the piece, view the video on the artist’s website.
In Terminal 5 at Heathrow there’s an art gallery for young international artists to exhibit their works. The belief that art has the ability to transcend all languages makes the international Terminal the ideal venue for a gallery. And just to ensure you can get your newest prized possession home, they have a number of shipping and delivery options to get your latest piece to its final destination. One has to love the marketing aspect of this gallery, which is played out perfectly.
“If we citizens do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams,”Yann Martel wrote in Life of Pi.
In our hectic lives, I am thankful airports across the globe are installing artwork to give busy travelers something to think about as they make their way to their final destination. Thomas Mertons once said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”Knowing that there’s art along your journey is reason enough to take the time lose yourself – if only for the moment – even as you find your way. BT
Photos: 1- Helsinki Airport, 2- Heathrow International Airport, 3- Quad City International Airport
Photos: 1- Quad City International Airport
2- Helsinki International Airport 3- Atlanta Harts eld Airport
4- Jacksonville International Airport
Photos: 1- Changi Airport 2- Narita International Airport 3- Helsinki Airport