Monday, February 26, 2007

Article: Airport art

A few years ago I took a short business trip to California. The trip consisted of two days of meetings with various potential customers. Normally I take my camera with me everywhere but I couldn’t imagine what I might photograph on such a brief and restricted journey.

When I arrived at the Sacramento airport, I realized my mistake. Two pillars disguised as piles of ancient lost luggage rose in stacks toward the high ceiling in the baggage claim area. The sculpture didn’t make me feel better about my chances of reconnecting with my own luggage but it did open my eyes to airport art. Thus enlightened, I soon found airports to be full of imaginative decoration.

Let’s face it, there’s not much to do at an airport and you may be trapped there indefinitely. In some ways airports are the closest many of us will come to being in prison. Airports force us to relinquish our personal belongings, they virtually--and sometimes literally--frisk us before we enter and the food is terrible. The one thing they have going for them is the art.

I actually took my first airport art photo years ago. I had few-hour layover at the Hong Kong airport on my way to Singapore on a business trip. After I deplaned, I looked back through the window and saw my plane. It was beautiful. Singapore Airlines must have the most highly decorated planes in the world. My plane sparkled (or would have sparkled if it hadn’t been raining) in various shades of blue, yellow, orange, red and tan. I pulled out my camera and snapped a photo.

The San Francisco airport has most impressed me with its art. Everywhere you look there are tremendous murals, some including 3-D elements including wonderfully polished wood carvings. I felt a little self-conscious going around photographing them (I was the only one doing so), but I wanted to remember them.

In Tokyo, a monument of colored glass adorns the international check-in area. Each of the four sides blends with the two adjoining and yet presents a new color scheme. I wandered all around admiring it from all sides. In an obscure corner was a plaque explaining the piece. The creation, titled “The Land of Nature,” was designed by Itoko Iwata of Iwata Class Co. I’m sure the rest of the explanation meant more in Japanese than it did in the English translation.

On my recent trip to Venezuela, I had several hours to explore the Caracas airport. The use of stained glass windows delighted my eyes and my camera. Each area of the airport sported a different color of glass and each color lent a unique atmosphere to the scene it illuminated. It provided at least a half-hour of entertainment, too bad I had ten hours to kill.

So next time you’re stuck in an airport, spend some time looking around. Even the Austin airport has some “art.” I had to put that in quotes because Austin is a bit on the nerdy side. One section in the baggage claim area depicts the street layout of central Austin in floor tiles. And much of the remaining art consists of holograms. At least it’s unique, I haven’t seen that anywhere else. I guess Austin is still weird.

Photo: The Caracas airport is colored with stained glass windows.
Photo: Singapore airlines has the most brightly painted planes I've ever seen.
Photo: A mural in the international terminal at SFO.
Photo: This mural at SFO also included carved, wooden birds.
Photo: A huge glass rectangle at Tokyo Narita airport.

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