Monday, February 22, 2010

In Plain Sight | Airport Art

The airport isn't exactly known as a location for provoking deep thoughts, and if you've ever picked up an in-flight magazine, you've tasted bland, anonymous, and disposable all in one bite. Airports can be our introduction to an entirely new place, but beyond the security checkpoint, most are entirely placeless blurs of Eames tandem sling seating, coffee franchises, and USA Today.

However, given their enormous, partially taxpayer-funded budgets, airports are often required to allocate 1% of their funds to public artwork, and these works can help give each hub some semblance of a unique personality. So, in an industry where constant motion is to be expected, what do you hang on the walls to get noticed?

At one end of the spectrum are Leo Tanguma's controversial murals at Denver International (pictured above). The bold symbolism makes these pieces hard to miss, even on a hurried dash to the baggage claim. Despite names like “In Peace and Harmony with Nature,” and “The Children of the World Dream of Peace,” the vivid, vaguely socialist imagery has spawned a thousand conspiracy theories about nefarious government activity taking place deep underground, below the adjacent Starbucks. Not quite the reaction Tanguma was hoping for, but attention from attention-deficient travelers nonetheless.

At the other end of the spectrum is the installation at MSP's light rail terminal (pictured below). The stunning collection of Minnesotan scenes by St. Paul photographer, Chris Faust, is definitely a more recognizable (though perhaps less symbolic) way of introducing visitors to the Land of 10,000 lakes. His beautiful panoramic prints help romanticize our state's people, its industry, and even its climate. But do they say enough to leave an impression? Who really doesn't like seeing a small-town homecoming parade? Who really does?

I'm no frequent flier. Have you seen great (or not-so-great) examples of local artistry in international airports?

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