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.
Perhaps 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.