Austin’s Airport Art Program turns every flight into a trip to the gallery: Got some time at AUS? There are many distractions in the aircraft view. – Art
Uplifted Ground by Michael Singer Studio (Photos by Jana Birchum)
Do you know what there is a lot of at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport? Art. In a variety of forms, in sheer quantity, in glorious abundance: art. In fact, there is so much art at Austin’s great portal to heaven – whether in permanent installations or in the many rotating exhibitions – that the experience could be overwhelming.
Or it want would be overwhelming if the creativity on display weren’t such a welcome respite from the TSA-enhanced babble of air travel as we know it. Especially reassuring as you let your eyes rest on a series of large landscapes by Austin’s Jimmy Jalapeeno after trudging through another security line, shoes in hand.
Bonus: They might be on their way to or from anywhere in this whole crazy world, but a lot of the art you’ll see at AUS will represent the local community – which some of the people who live in those areas vote over expressing their life, their physical environment, that great chaotic wonder that we all share the experience of.
Meanderwing by Marc Fornes
OK but why Is there so much art at AUS? Who is responsible for this ongoing celebration of creativity? Who pays for all this stuff? How can it be viewed? And where can a citizen pick up a boarding pass to Tatooine or Hogwarts?
First, let’s break things down a bit. There are two public areas at every major airport: the area before security without a ticket and the area after security with a ticket. And both are steeped in art.
Austin’s Art in Public Places (AIPP) program is responsible for the enormous outdoor installations for everyone to enjoy. There are plenty of those, because AUS is a massive ongoing construction project—and the city of Austin was the first community in Texas to commit to including artworks in its public works projects. Therefore, 2% of eligible project budgets are reserved for capital improvements to commission or purchase art for these locations.
“This is an actual city ordinance,” says Constance White, manager of AIPP.
Works by Rehab El Sadek
“And we’re trying to keep up with construction,” says Curt Gettman, AIPP’s senior project manager. “Especially now that the airport wants to spend almost 5 billion over the next 20 years?”
That means the program has plenty of money to work with, and it’s manifesting itself before you even get out of your car in works like Erik Eley’s arrest Shock Egg (2015), Warping time and space near the cell phone parking lot. Marc Fornes’ meander wings (2020) Sculpture – a kaiju-sized exercise in extraterrestrial topology – is a sort of “pretzel coat” that complicates light and shadow as you walk underneath ascending curves in the breezeway leading from the above ground car parks. Next is the site-specific, deconstructed cityscape by Michael Singer Studio Raised floor (2015) with blocks of concrete, granite and steel suspended from cables dividing the long walkway on the roof of the red parking garage. Better known because they have been around since 2006: the eye-friendly colors by James Edward Talbot crossinga vibrant river course of ceramic, stone and glass that borders the main pedestrian bridge to the Barbara Jordan Terminal, moving in mosaic-like brilliance from Earth to Sun and Moon and back again.
Good use of funds, yes, but – we have more questions. What about the room itself? Can the footprint of an AIPP installation take up 2% of the planned area?
“Well,” says Gettman, “that’s open to negotiation between the parties involved and the artists involved.”
some of those eight great guitars
And that alive crossing was created by local ceramist Talbot (famous for his Casa Neverlandia), but these more recent installations have been created by people who aren’t even Texans?
“AIPP doesn’t just let international and national artists work,” says Gettman. “There’s also a sensitivity to making sure we’re creating opportunities for local talent. … We have more stuff funded by AIPP [the Barbara Jordan Terminal] – Joseph Christopher Letty, Beili Liu and Kat Quay are the next artists in it.”
So AIPP is also responsible for part of the art Inside the buildings, like Bruce Wolf’s True Patriot (the Barbara Jordan memorial statue) and those Eight great guitars. As Austin downtown cruisergiant aluminum spaceships built by Young-Min Kang based on images of the city’s buildings and Sandra Fiedorek To unknown parts, a series of 11 murals above baggage claim. And — where you can actually get those boarding passes for Tatooine or Hogwarts or Tlön, Uqbar or Orbis Tertius (and Oz and Innsmouth and New Crobuzon and Narnia and more) — Janet Zweigs Interimaginary descents Gateway, which has its own flight announcements, with seats set at an odd angle to the rest of the building.
Ah, that 2%! Of course, there’s more art in these public spaces than snakes on an airplane.
True Patriot (the Barbara Jordan Memorial Statue) by Bruce Wolf
“The development program for the airport expansion includes the construction of the new terminal and other structures,” confirms Cory Hurless, the airport’s director of art, music and graphics. “This will trigger more AIPP involvement – it will keep Constance busy until she retires.”
“Airports are different across the country,” says White. “Sometimes there’s one person who handles exhibitions, art and music – like Cory – and other times you have a hybrid situation where you have a local arts agency working with the airport and their team to bring the program and theirs.” to integrate projects.”
So here AIPP and Airport Art work together, with Hurless being responsible for Airport Art. “It’s a strange job, isn’t it?” she says. “I didn’t go to school because I thought I was going to work in an airport. I studied Art History and Anthropology and did my Masters in Museum Administration. So I did that for a couple of years – I was a curator for smaller museums – then I applied here. And there were 80 applicants, and I never thought I’d get it, but here I am. And now it’s six years.”
In those six years, Hurless has brought a wealth of cultural wonders to this busy venue. Not to mention all the live music bookings, their impact is best seen in the changing exhibition program beyond security. Currently featured in the special built-in showcases along the walkways between the gates are works by Lys Santamaria, the 620 Group, Rehab el Sadek, Sylvia Troconis and more: the kind of manufactured objects and imagery you would see in the best local Galleries – because they come from the best local galleries. There’s even a Texas Toy Museum display case with little robots and cowboys and gizmos from many a Lone Star childhood. And within a series of tall kiosks rising from the ground opposite Gate 10: the colorful creations of Del Valle ISD Visual Art students in grades K-5.
Meanderwing by Marc Fornes
“I spread my love of art everywhere,” says Hurless, “so some of my work helps local schools or organizations like La Peña or Six Square. In addition to individual artists, I also try to improve Austin’s cultural offerings. “
And – just to make sure we’re getting this right – AIPP doesn’t pay for any of this?
“No,” says Hurless, “that’s from AUS, from the actual Department of Aviation. Back when this place opened in 1999, they originally saw it as a place for people to come and enjoy themselves – that’s how the whole live music program started. They thought, “People from Austin can come here and be entertained.” And before 9/11, that was true: the airport was a place to meet, eat, watch planes, so they had this inventive idea: Let’s have live music, let’s have art, let’s make it really sophisticated ! But 9/11 changed everything. So a lot of what you’re experiencing now is for ticketed passengers – you have to go through the TSA.
[Note: Sadly, that’s true for Zweig’s Interimaginary Departures.]
Green Austin landscapes by Jimmy Jalapeeno
“But even with that, we still have the largest live music program in any airport in the US,” Hurless continues. “We have 40 weekly performances. And now you have to come here, what, two or three hours earlier? And after you get through the stress of security, you can relax and listen to music and check out rotating exhibitions featuring local artists.”
We can relax (well, maybe a little) because these two entities, AIPP and Airport Art, work well together to bring the culture of Texas, from Austin, to our global gateway. The sky is filled with metal birds and their nest houses local wonders. But creative collaboration can be difficult, right? Are notes compared, aesthetics discussed, when planning a commission or reviewing an exhibition, so that the new additions complement each other and what came before? How does that work with the percentage of all the billions that the airport will spend? How granular is the process?
“We have a master plan that we’re expanding,” explains Gettman. “We’re going to find the opportunities early on to have something that’s been thought through rather than just saying, ‘Oh, let’s do one thing here, let’s do one thing there.’ It’s going to be a comprehensive plan.”
“There are many other starting points for this reasoning,” says White. “Concessions, real estate deals and all that. So it’s a bit of a balancing act, but sharing voices to talk about intention, to think about purpose in all areas — that can Be granular.” She smiles like a woman whose flight is on time. “Our goal isn’t without its challenges at times, but we all have one really big priority: customer service, right? We want to contribute as positively as possible to the travel experience.”
Learn more about the Airport Art program at austintexas.gov/department/art-barbara-jordan-terminal-airport.
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