Art in Unexpected Places – A Layover Story of Philadelphia Airport

After a flight cancellation at Philadelphia International Airport last week, I found myself with time to kill; time to explore the airport at my leisure. I didn’t expect to get much out of it besides stretching my legs a little, but was pleasantly surprised to find there was a large and varied range of art exhibits on display throughout the airport.


There’s been something of an explosion of this sort of thing – art in unexpected public places (I’ve seen it in shopping malls, on construction hoardings, even on public transport) – and it presents an interesting opportunity for contemporary artists to have their work seen by a large audience who might not normally go out of their way to discover it.

The works at PIA are a mix of temporary and permanent exhibits, many of which have been specially commissioned by the airport. They feature a diverse mix of local artists working in all manner of media, from painting to sculpture, photography to textiles, and can be found both in the terminals, and between them; so much of it, in fact, that even after exploring for a few hours, I hadn’t spotted everything. Some of the more obvious exhibits were the sculpture, which included the sea-creature-esque glass chandeliers of Adam Wallacavage, and geometric paper-folding work of Delainey Barclay, as well as a wonderful piece spanning the entire check-in floor and also visible from a walkway above: Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter’s ‘Impulse’ – a series of airplanes suspended from the ceiling, and constructed from hundreds of tiny castings of birds of all species.

into-the-fold-delainey barclayPerhaps my personal favorite of the works I saw was Sarah Zwerling’s photographic work, ‘Hamilton Street, Philadelphia’. Innovative use of glass, natural light, and space creates a tranquil oasis nestled between the bustle of passengers rushing for their flight, and the doldrums of those inevitable layovers. One can almost feel, for a moment, as if they were walking down a tree-lined avenue in Spring, rather than trapped in Terminal A. This Spring theme was continued in glass mosaic work by Ava Blitz, floral sculpture by Michele Tremblay, and a series of painted panels by Deirdre Murphy, cleverly displayed as the viewer rode a long moving walkway between terminals.

Unfortunately there isn’t room for me to talk about everything – not even the works I did see – but I could guarantee there was something for everyone. It’s unlikely most will get a chance to see it all in person – if you’re passing through Philly airport then you’re probably running for a gate – but the idea of placing local art at such high visibility points as an airport is a wonderful one, allowing for huge exposure in varied spaces, and bringing people and art together in ways neither party might think of or expect. I certainly found it highly refreshing, and it turned what would have been an absolute drudge of a day at the airport into an experience – a day at the art gallery. I can only hope the idea catches on.

More information about all the current exhibits and artists can be found on the airport’s website here.

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Alex Irish

Alex Irish

Alex Irish is a British writer of fiction and art appreciator.  He currently resides in Santa Fe, NM with his wife.  He has been published in numerous litjournals over the years as well as editing one singlehandedly for a while.  He enjoys experimental literature and anything involving taxidermy.