“A universal thrill.”
This could be the description of post-COVID air travel, as thousands of flights were canceled or delayed, sometimes in a single day. But the phrase, by acclaimed author Gertrude Stein, currently appears in a mural installation by artist Eve Fowler in a unique location – the baggage claim level of Terminal 2 at Los Angeles International Airport.
The murals are part of a myriad of artworks and other unique features at airports around the world that are meant to calm and orient harassed travellers, offer directional cues, help them identify with the particular place they landed and even shelling out more money for too much. snacks or souvenirs.
“It improves the customer experience and helps drive revenue, people stay around longer,” said Heather Kaufman, director of arts and events at Denver International Airport. “It’s kind of an intuitive way to find your way, you can tell someone, ‘look for the giant mural at the end of the alley. But it’s mostly a zone of respite…art audience helps reduce that visual noise if you want. Otherwise, we’re just ads and noise.”
Art, a staple at some major airports for decades, is complemented by other amenities. Singapore’s Changi Airport has a butterfly garden, Denver offered a free on-site miniature golf course this summer, and Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, was voted the world’s best airport in 2022 by passengers. surveyed by SkyTrax, in part thanks to its sanitizing robots in high-traffic areas.
Closer to home, Palm Springs International Airport in its entirety makes an artistic statement. Architect Donald Wexler’s sleek, mid-century modern design for the original terminal, which opened in 1966 on the site of a World War II military base, deliberately frames the towering mountains of San Jacinto through windows almost 30 feet high.
“It was Don’s love letter to the city, he said it was his favorite work,” said Michael Stern, owner of The Modern Tour, which offers tours of landmark homes in the city, but for security reasons, not the airport. “Palm Springs is a very unique place, it’s the Southern California desert, and Don wanted you to feel like you’ve arrived somewhere unique and special,” Stern said.
Sitting in a wheelchair by the front door one recent Friday, unable to reach her son to pick her up because her phone wasn’t working, Christine Gargirello of Bridgewater, New Jersey, stared out the windows at the sky.
“It’s beautiful, I’m just sitting here watching this, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “Once I’m there, I take a picture of it right away,” she said of the mountain scenery.
The airport has exhibited an eclectic selection of sculptures for two decades and has begun the process of augmenting them with new donated pieces and other works that remain unseen in the collections of the Palm Springs Art Museum.
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A writer for the website Thrillist went so far as to buy the cheapest plane tickets he could find, just so he and a pal could party at the airport before heading to Joshua National Park Tree.
All this art can make you hungry
It’s no coincidence that many airports now spend a small but real part of their budget on sculpture, concerts and other amenities. A 2020 National Academy of Sciences technical paper on airport visual arts found many benefits for a modest cost and no apparent downsides.
Compiled from a review of available research and in-depth interviews at 13 airports across the United States, from LAX to tiny Truckee/Tahoe Airport, it identified a range of benefits.
“Airport users have an overwhelmingly positive view of exhibiting art at an airport,” he found. “Together, these 13 airports present visual art exhibits to more than 365 million viewers each year.”
The report found that visual arts programs support “passenger well-being: by creating a more pleasant and calming environment that relieves stress. but also increases the expenses of the concessions.”
Arts programs at some airports are now almost half a century old. “San Francisco is the creme de la creme,” Kauman said of Denver Airport.. “But ours is also one of the originals and is seen as a beacon by others.”
Some of the most popular, high-flying, or downright weird artwork in airports include the following:
A horse, a hare and an ear of corn
Denver International Airport’s rearing wild horse statue ‘Mustang’ is mounted on a median near the entrance and has been nicknamed ‘Blucifer’ because of its cobalt glow and eyes brilliant reds. The post-9,000 killed its sculptor, prominent Mexican artist Luis Jimenez, when his heavy head fell and severed an artery in his leg. Like much modern art, it was initially decried by some, but has become an integral part of the place.
“People would be crazy if we moved the mustang,” airport spokeswoman Stephanie Figueroa said.
Head up to Sacramento for another over-the-top experience, where a giant red rabbit appears to be jumping down to collect luggage from Terminal 2, specifically a suitcase with a vortex in the middle. Sculptor Lawrence Argent told an interviewer in 2011, when installing the $800,000 work, that he chose the rabbit because travelers leap into the unknown and they all bring their own stories on their travels.
The design was also a way to integrate art with the three-story terminal building and the agricultural fields outside.
“I wanted to play with the idea that something came from outside and jumped into the building,” Argent said.
Airlines are also using art to add punch to what might otherwise be dull or even unnerving spaces. United Airlines has commissioned Michael Hayden and others to create a $1.2 million mobile experience called “Sky’s the Limit” for travelers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport so they can carry their luggage around an 800-foot tunnel between Terminals B and C in 1987.
The ever-changing neon rainbow and rippling color bars along the walls are numbing, even soothing, despite a mechanical voice repeatedly warning that the moving walkway is about to end soon and drowning out the specially ordered music playing. sometimes.
There may be awkward moments – Craig Nutt’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s “Corncorde” sculpture at gate E12 is the tallest ear of corn you’ll ever see and looks like a yellow phallus giant at certain angles.
But the airport, which reclaimed its title of busiest in the world in 2021, has thousands of other rooms. As in Denver, permanent artwork and conservation is funded through a city public art ordinance, whereby one percent of all funds for capital projects is set aside for the purchase and conservation of works.
With nearly 76 million captive visitors passing through Atlanta Airport last year, that tops the world’s top 100 museums combined, which in 2021 had a total of 71 million visitors.
Duane Hanson’s “hyper-realistic” piece, “Traveler”, is perhaps the most apt ode to air travel today. Installed at Orlando International Airport in 1986, it gained new fans in 2021, when a TikTok video of it was posted.
Theories about its origins have raged online, including some claiming a deceased passenger was embalmed. In fact, it was sculpted from a live model by Hanson, who then painstakingly painted in fine detail from head to toe. Eyes closed, slumped over a regulation size bag, the character is surely art imitating life.
Janet Wilson is senior environmental reporter for The Desert Sun and co-author of USA Today’s Climate Point newsletter. She can be reached at email@example.com or @janetwilson66 on Twitter
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