Art at the airport a balm for the weary traveller
In this sponsored post, Michael takes a tour of the Philadelphia International Airport’s extensive contemporary art exhibitions and shares a few highlights from the nationally-unique program. With the help of Airport curator, Leah Douglas, Artblog brings you as close to these beauties as you can get without a plane ticket.

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Being in an airport can be like finding yourself stranded on another planet. You are cut off from the world, confined, and stuck on airport time — time marked by schedules and delays rather than by the sun. You are surrounded by people in various states of anxiety and hurry, and you are bombarded by commercial stimuli. Airports thus are among the most stressful environments that we enter into voluntarily, and with some regularity. Some, of course, are more stressful than others.

Last year, on the way to Vietnam, I flew from JFK to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport in South Korea. I entered a dirty, dreary, disorganized airport with few amenities and poor customer service, and arrived at an airport almost 7,000 miles away that was inviting and nearly pristine – a spacious, bright environment that included gardens, showers, medical services, a playroom, prayer rooms, abundant shopping and appetizing restaurants, a golf course, two movie theaters, an ice rink, a casino, a spa, and a museum. In terms of stress, the amenities made a huge difference.

Many domestic and international airports now use art, installed in terminals and along passageways, to humanize the experience of travelling. The Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) has an exemplary art program with a talented full-time curator, Leah Douglas, and a small support staff. Each of its seven terminals regularly hosts exhibitions, many of which contain work by local artists and focus upon various aspects of the city. Thankfully, on the JFK to Seoul scale, our airport falls on the Seoul side of the equation, and the art exhibitions play a major role in its overall comfort.

Conrad Benner: “Discovering Philly Street Art,” detail; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.
Conrad Benner: “Discovering Philly Street Art,” detail; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.

It’s unfortunate, of course, that you have to pass through security to see most of the displays. Such, of course, is reality in the age of terrorism. For a portion of the over 80,000 people who do come through the airport every day, including, of course, many Philadelphians, the artwork offers respite from the tension that the airport environment can generate and a welcoming introduction to the culture and architecture of the city.

Our Editor in Chief, Roberta Fallon, and I had an opportunity to tour the exhibits on display in the airport in March with curator Leah Douglas. The quantity and quality of the work was surprising and impressive, and the exhibits all shared one attribute — they transport you beyond the airport into environments which convey a sense of freedom and beauty. They create spaces within which the traveler is invited, for a few moments, to breathe and to relax.

I’ve selected a few to highlight which, among others, I found striking.

Conrad Benner: Discovering Philly Street Art

Conrad Benner: “Discovering Philly Street Art,” installation; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.
Conrad Benner: “Discovering Philly Street Art,” installation; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.

In Terminal D, you find Conrad Benner’s “Discovering Philly Street Art.” Benner is a local photographer and curator who is dedicated to promoting street art in Philadelphia, and his installation is comprised of a wall of layered photographs which celebrate the street art scene in the city. The display includes work by many notable Philadelphia artists including Shawn Theodore, David Guinn, Michelle Angela Ortiz, and Kid Hazo, and provides an engaging glance at some of the city’s superb graffiti, murals, public art and architecture — a wonderful introduction to Philadelphia. It will be exhibited through October.

Deirdre Murphy’s Sky Paintings

Deirdre Murphy, “Sky Paintings”; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport
Deirdre Murphy, “Sky Paintings”; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.

Between Terminals C and D, on a wall along a moving walkway, stretch four glorious “Sky Paintings” by Philadelphia artist Deirdre Murphey, which feature colorful landscapes, birds, clouds, sunsets, and some whimsical kite-like abstractions. The scale and panoramic nature of this work makes you feel as if you’re moving through a national park, not standing in airport passageway.

Lauren Cat West – “Pretty City – Get Lost Out There”

Lauren Cat West, “Pretty City--Get Lost Out There,” installation; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.
Lauren Cat West, “Pretty City–Get Lost Out There,” installation; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.

Terminal F features Philadelphia artist Lauren Cat West’s printed mural “Pretty City – Get Lost Out There.” Light and airy, this delightful piece, with a color scheme reminiscent of Hank Wesselman’s and an abstract floral theme, on display through September 2018, may be the actual antidote to traveler stress.

Charles Schmidt’s Volcanic Landscapes

Charles Schmidt, “Volcanic Landscapes”; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.
Charles Schmidt, “Volcanic Landscapes”; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.

Charles Schmidt’s renderings of “Mount St. Helens” and “Mount Vesuvius” also hang in Terminal F, and will be on view through June of this year. Like Deirdre Murphy’s “Sky Paintings,” Schmidt’s work transports you far beyond the institutional and commercial environment of the airport and into the magnificent landscapes of these colossal volcanoes. The unusual aerial perspectives and glowing, muted hues of Schmidt’s paintings seem otherworldly.

Philadelphia Bicycles

“Custom Bikes,” Bilenky Cycle Works, Engin Cycles, Firth & Wilson Transport Cycles, Haley Tricycles, and Woody Bicycles; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport
“Custom Bikes,” Bilenky Cycle Works, Engin Cycles, Firth & Wilson Transport Cycles, Haley Tricycles, and Woody Bicycles; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport

In Terminal A-West there are two intriguing exhibits involving the bicycle, which will be on view through May of this year. Trapped within the domain of the airport, it is refreshing to be ushered into the world of this mode of of transportation, which has become so important in our clogged city.

Custom Bikes” presents a collection of the work of five Philadelphia bike builders – Bilenky Cycle Works, Engin Cycles, Firth & Wilson Transport Cycle, Haley Tricycles, and Woody Bicycles. The artistry and design innovation of these craftsmen is extraordinary.

Near “Custom Bikes” you find Curtis Anthony’s “Via Bicycles.” Anthony repairs and sells bicycles for city commuters. His collection of utilitarian parts, accessories, and vintage bicycles, provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of this form of commuting in the city.

Curtis Anthony, “Via Bicycles,” installation; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.
Curtis Anthony, “Via Bicycles,” installation; image courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport.

With the support of the city, Leah Douglas and her curatorial team have done a magnificent job of incorporating art into the airport. If you have an opportunity next time you are there, look around. For a preview, check out The Airport’s Exhibition Program website, which also profiles exhibitions currently on view, as well as their Instagram.

Tags

Bilenky Cycle Works, Charles Schmidt, Conrad Benner, Curtis Anthony, Custom Bikes, david guinn, Deirdre Murphy, Engin Cycles, Firth & Wilson Transport Cycles, Haley Tricycles, kid hazo, Lauren Cat West, leah douglas, michelle angela ortiz, philadelphia international airport, shawn theodore, Via Bicycles, Woody Bicycles

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