"If birds can glide for long periods of time, then...why can't I?"
- Orville Wright
Since the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903, which covered a distance of 120 feet, lasted 12 seconds in the air and flew only 20 feet above the ground, air travel has become the most world's popular mode of transportation with long lines at airport security, baggage claim carousels and the throngs of fellow passengers rushing to their respective terminals. As the technology of aviation has advanced since the birth of flight, so too have noteworthy art programs developed in many airport terminals.
The airport terminal is a unique environ as it as a public space meant to transport passengers from one point to the next, but it is also a blank canvas for displaying art works in all disciplines that serves as a cultural billboard for the respective city. When we consider the daily impact the airport has on an audience it's no wonder why local, national, and international artists are commissioned to produce art for Art Commission Programs implemented in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, France, Germany, Los Angeles, London, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Their integration in the décor is as seamless that flight patterns pilots frequent each day, and suggests that when traveling it is often not your final destination but the journey that summons the greatest pleasure and impact.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has been a national forerunner in art programming since the San Francisco Arts Commission was established in 1932 as part of the city's charter. In 1969 the program was recognized by administrative code, making it one of the very first sanctioned programs of its kind in the entire country. The airport's permanent collection boasts over 100 of the city's most valuable art objects outside of the museum space- photography, sculpture, and painting are among the mediums represented. At the crux of the collection are works from Bay Area artists from the mid 1970's to present whose work illuminates the diversity and rich culture of the region. Program Director of the Civic Art Collection and Public Art Program Susan Pontius emphasizes the significance of art in airport spaces as the works "speak for the cultural vitality of the area and promote regional identity. Art programs provide a key passenger amenity by softening, enlivening and humanizing the environment, providing entertainment and reducing stress." To best humanize the space the works are carefully placed throughout the terminal, and Pontius explains that "artists are brought on as soon as feasible so that the requirements for their artwork can be incorporated into the architecture," and prime sites of visibility are detected. Just as in a museum, the placement of an art object is crucial.
The Indianapolis International Airport introduced its program with the opening of Midfield Terminal in 2008, and in January 2011 formed a partnership with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The Airport Authority commissioned works before Midfield Terminal was opened with works from Brian McCutcheon, Greg Hill, and Ron Baron. Curators point to the significance of proper placement and the value in transforming the public airport into a space that is equally inspired and art worthy as a museum. Veronica Roberts, co-curator of the museum, emphasizes, "Traffic patterns are one of the most important considerations for new commissions. We want art to be part of the traveler's experience." She continues by adding that airport art introduces works to a broader audience; "while art at a museum reaches a public too, our hope is that presenting art in the airport will reach a wide audience, including some who do not consider themselves museum-goers." The art programs have become so ingrained in the terminal that passengers may forget they have an invitation to view new and historic works of art included in the cost of their ticket. With the forthcoming museum-curated LED video series "On Screen" passengers will have the opportunity to view PermPress: The American Cycle from multi-media Indianapolis based artist Artur Silva, which juxtaposes American history through animation, video, and photography. The video runs on a continuous loop and lasts for 62 seconds, approximately the amount of time it takes a traveler to descend the escalator or stairs from airport's Civic Plaza to baggage claim.
To coincide with one of the largest art fairs Miami Basel, multi-media artist Christopher Janney constructed Harmonic Convergence on the third floor of the Miami International Airport. The pedestrian walkway serves as an entrance and exit to the new Mover passenger train, and creates a first and last impression for travelers traversing the airport. Constructed from a series of intricate light patterns and sound arrangements, Janney described Harmonic Convergence as an "abstraction of South Florida in color and sound." The commissioned work combines artifice and natural elements, with a soundtrack of Floridian landscapes juxtaposed with the chaos of the sterile terminal walkway. The collaborative piece uses a white terrazzo floor, white acoustical tile ceiling, the exposed X-brace and steel trusses painted white, and a triple laminated 3/8" glass engineered by Novum Structures to create 150 colors using the Vanceva color system. Additionally, the piece incorporates audio hardware and ceiling speakers with individual white LED "trigger" lamps designed by PhenomenArts, Inc. The piece also features a score composed of the natural sounds of South Florida, including the Everglades, ocean shore and depths underwater. The result is a fantastical spectrum of colors and sounds that are entirely separate from the white noise hustle of the airport. Janney's understanding of transforming a public space, particularly in an airport, coincides with his feeling that "art should not be something that you only experience in the concert hall or museum. My interest is to make art a part of your everyday life."
The Art Newspaper reported the attendance for the Louvre reached 8.5 million and the British Museum reached approximately 5.8 million. The Los Angeles International Airport reported a total of 24.6 million passengers arriving and departing where art is currently displayed. In 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art had an attendance of 5.24 million, their highest attendance since 2001, while John F. Kennedy International Airport received nearly 48 million passengers this year alone. Airports are not only a site of departure and arrival but also a tremendous opportunity to advertise culture and artistic styles while calming the anxieties of weary travelers who may have missed their flight.