THE AUSTRALIAN ART CURATOR BLOG: WHY WE LOVE ART IN OUR AIRPORTS
In a few days I will fly to New York for my big reconnaissance mission to find beautiful spaces, and I’m itching to get on the plane. I’ll be seeing new sights and meeting new people. But best of all?
I have a three-hour stopover at LAX.
Now usually stopovers are the stuff of nightmares. Bleary-eyed and grumpy, the last thing you want to have to do is wander on through a big, dreary space, jet-lagged and hanging out for coffee. But luckily for art lovers, LAX is the complete opposite.
In partnership with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the public space within the airport has been transformed into art hubs, replete with art exhibitions, installations and pieces of public art: aimed at engaging and entertaining visitors.
Everything about this airport screams art - and it’s amazing
This incredible partnership means that the estimated 849 million travellers moving through LAX - who might not otherwise make the time to see art - are exposed to a variety of creative talent.
You might argue that airports, with their strict security, complicated interweavings of people rushing around or ambling, and loud announcements over the speakers, are not the ideal environment to house artworks. But I would have to disagree with you.
Not only does having art in airports mean art reaches new audiences, it also utilises a space that is ideal for awe-inspiring art. As the director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Maxwell L. Anderson told the New York Times in 2011, its “the august grandeur of wide open spaces” within airports that makes them ideal for large-scale installations. Plus, how many other art museums share a space in such close distance to shops, food and beverage spaces and entertainment areas? Art can mean increasing dwell time and spend, with visitors shopping while they wait for their fellow travellers to look at art.
In short, it's the kind of space that anyone with a curatorial and creative mind would (verynearlyalmost) kill to get their hands on. In fact art consultants for airports would have the job to create an art strategy for the space as a whole, instead of seeing it in different parts. They organise things like strategic artist residencies or semi-permanent installations that emphasise the overall narrative.
Of course, consultants only have so much sway if they are called in on a quick-fix job.
If at the point of design there is little or no consideration for permanent art spaces within the airport, there is a limit on what can be achieved. Having a programmable space for activities such as public art exhibitions not only creates an expectation from return visitors, but it incentivises hosting one-off events.
It’s also important to remember the tourism argument. Many people who are in the airport are not necessarily going to step out of it. (This is particularly true of stopover airports like LAX.) A jaw-droppingly gorgeous installation work from a local artist can act as a touchstone to the culture outside the airport.
In collaboration with the airport and tourism bodies, a consultant could very well play into seasonal, extraordinarily visual events such as Sydney’s Mardi Gras and Vivid as an opportunity to welcome visitors.
The airport could become, not a characterless separate entity to the city, but its living, breathing extension. Can you imagine a temporary installation with the energy of a Mardi float in the Qantas terminal? Someone give Alan a call …
By encouraging interest in the region and promoting its creativity and rich culture, perhaps prompting a (non-stopover) visit.
Who is already putting art in airports? The good people at the LAX Art Program aim to “enhance and humanize” the experience of traveling through the airport, and create interactions with artworks that stick in the mind of the traveller, beyond the ordinary, expected travel experience.
I am in love with a large-scale installation work by Ball-Nogues Studio called Air Garden (2014) currently in LAX. The Los Angeles-based studio aimed to create something that created a sense of atmosphere for the traveller: a “serene” experience within the hustle and bustle of the airport space.
So, with all these compelling arguments and examples, why are we still seeing ugly airports? Anyone who's been to Sydney Domestic Airport recently (and didn’t have the pleasure of being on the Qantas side of the tracks) cannot have failed to notice the dingy white hoardings, snaking through long corridors: a big yawning blank.
Unlike a few kilometers away in City of Sydney, where the council has now made it mandatory to put brightly coloured, engaging graphics on hoardings in order to minimise the adverse visual effect of building sites, at Sydney Airport we are still seeing plain hoardings. It would be so simple (and worthwhile) for Australian airports to follow suit, and engage local artists in order to emphasise the culture of the surrounds (maybe with a cheeky app on the side to guide the viewer on a curated, informative art journey?).
Airports need to utilise their strengths, such as their large space, big blank walls, guaranteed audience attention, and dwell times in order to strengthen the overall narrative that will tell a story on the culture and creativity of the location. The cleverness, creativity and agile thinking that has manifested into a great human achievement (allowing millions to fly around the earth every year) deserves to be celebrated like this.
So isn’t an airport the perfect place to house another creation - art - which expands minds and broadens horizons?