A Collaboration of Art at LaGuardia & Newark Liberty International Airports
Public art in airports; in addition to aesthetics, the value of having works of art that are freely accessible to the public is a social, cultural, and economic benefit for travelers, communities, and airport staff. In their traditionally harried and automated environments, airports enrich the travel experience by adding permanent public art to terminals worldwide, personalizing and vitalizing their built environments. Art installations offer a strong sense of time and place, identity, diversity, and a communal history unique to its cultured locale. The very presence of art at airport terminals also helps to create a more soothing and refreshing breathing-space for rushed or anxious travelers.
In the planning of public spaces, artists are the creatives who, through the creative process and their collaboration with architects, designers, administrators, engineers, funding agencies, and community stakeholders, bring their distinctive interpretation and aesthetic vision to civic space in an imaginative way that visually captures the essence of a culture’s locale and its unique history. In addition, artists are advocates who, through their art, engage in social interaction and self-reflection and encourage awareness – creating art that, alongside its aesthetic components, educates, enlightens, and celebrates the culture and qualities of a place; these qualities differentiate one place from another.
With the multi-billion-dollar transformation of New York City’s transportation infrastructure, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has worked vigorously to make public art a signature feature at the region’s airports, striving to incorporate the culture and art of the local area. Heavily driven by Port Authority Executive Director, Rick Cotton and Chairman of the Board, Kevin O’Toole, incorporating public art through community engagement was an early goal for the major redevelopment program.
The largest, busiest redeveloped airports in the New York metropolitan region are no exception in the recent transformation of their immense atriums and corridors into vivid and luminous expressions of human imagination through the visual arts. At LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International Airport, the most recent public art installations serve as a hospitable greeting to travelers arriving through their gates, giving them a sample of what lies outside their bustling terminals. Art also extends a neighborly sense of community and an amiable farewell to passengers who are departing or connecting with a flight to their final destination,
Jim Heitmann, the Port Authority’s Director of Aviation Redevelopment, recently discussed the significance of public art at area airports, saying, “I’m excited about the whole redevelopment program, especially about the artwork that the Port Authority has done by working with our partners and those we manage directly and I’m excited for it to have such a prominent role. It has been a key goal to involve the community in the way the art was procured and curated, in the way it was erected, and with the artists themselves, and it has been very successful.”
LaGuardia Airport: Terminal B in Partnership With Public Art Fund
The newly completed Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport stands as one of the crown jewels of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey airport terminals. For the redevelopment of Terminal B, the Port Authority and LaGuardia Gateway Partners (developer and operator of Terminal B at LaGuardia) invited the Public Art Fund to partner with them to formulate and implement a comprehensive art program with major permanent installations at the new world-class Arrivals and Departures Hall at LGA’s Terminal B. The objective of this partnership was to commission a select group of the world’s leading artists to develop proposals for original and iconic commissions of site-specific works that would become part of the fabric of Terminal B itself. Artists were encouraged to draw on their own experiences of New York City, and after a thorough review of all proposals, four artists were awarded commissions – Jeppe Hein, Sabine Hornig, Laura Owens, and Sarah Sze.
Working on an unprecedented scale, the resulting works by these four artists reflect a multi-layered global city defined by its creative energy, openness, diversity, and democratic spirit. In a building whose architecture is characterized by plentiful natural light and open, fluid space, each of the artist’s works animates a space that reflects both New York’s built and natural environment, its cultural personality, and its history.
Jeppe Hein’s, All Your Wishes is an installation of 70 mirror balloons composed of PVD-coated stainless steel. Colorful and reflective, these balloon-shaped sculptures are dispersed throughout Terminal B, as though they were released in the air and allowed to float to the ceiling above. The balloons entice viewers to look up, smile and embrace their playfulness and wonder. Below, at ground level, are Hein’s three modified social benches modeled out of powder-coated aluminum. These three bright red benches loop and twist with a spontaneity of form and expression that reinvents the typical, mundane public seating commonly found in a transit hub. The benches provide a sense of social connectivity and a pause for respite amid the hustle and bustle of an airport.
Sabine Hornig’s, LaGuardia Vistas is a 42-foot high x 268-foot wide transparent photo collage that fills the expansive glass façade of the Connector to Terminal B. As the sunlight flows through the façade, visitors are immersed in a kaleidoscope of color, image, and text as they move through the expansive corridor. Hornig’s highly detailed composition merges over 1,100 photographs of New York City into a pair of interwoven cityscapes. Using the highest-resolution camera commercially available, Hornig captured both minute architectural details and ephemeral moments in the life of New York City. Buildings pictured in twilight shades of blue reach to the tops of inverted skyscrapers that reflect the morning sun. LaGuardia Vistas refers to Fiorello LaGuardia, founder of the airport and New York City mayor from 1934 to 1945. The piece includes 20 quotes from and about Mayor LaGuardia that reflect upon his life and legacy. It provides a single monumental image that contemplates time and place, history and memory.
Laura Owens, I 🍕NY a celebration of New York City. Handmade glazed ceramic tiles and grout form a mosaic on the airport’s largest interior wall depicting dozens of iconic images that evoke the New York City that is often conjured up in the public’s imagination. Against a blue sky filled with illustrated clouds are the representations of the city’s landmarks, historic public artwork, popular foods, and everyday sights. The mosaic also includes several transit network symbols that connect them all. The nearly 68-foot high x 566-foot wide work integrates Owens’ ‘painterly’ style with the artisan craft of ceramic and the language of digital image-making.
Sarah Sze’, Shorter than the Day is a sculpture of epic proportions – it is an intricate assemblage of hundreds of images of the sky above New York City, taken over one day. The photos chart and capture the pale yellow of dawn, the bright blues of daylight, the darkish orange at sunset, and the limitless violet of midnight. Affixed to rods of powder-coated steel and suspended through two levels of the Terminal B headhouse, Sze’ work is a complex arrangement of innumerable materials that create the illusion of a floating, ethereal sphere. Named for the Emily Dickinson poem, Shorter than the Day, the sculpture is a reflection upon the permanence and transience expressed in the poem’s line, “We passed the setting sun, or rather – he passed us.”
LaGuardia Airport: Terminal C, in Partnership With the Queens Museum
In support of the Port Authority’s vision to transform, renovate and upgrade the ‘formerly aged’ LaGuardia Airport, Delta Air Lines partnered with the Queens Museum to commission six renowned, New York-based artists to create large-scale, permanent art installations throughout Delta’s sparkling new, multi-floored Terminal C Arrivals and Departures Hall which were unveiled at the opening of the terminal in June 2022.
The six artists selected for the commissions were Mariam Ghani, Rashid Johnson, Aliza Nisenbaum, Virginia Overton, Ronny Quevedo, and Fred Wilson. Curated by the Queens Museum, the permanent works include sculptures and painted ceramic murals that tell a compelling story about New York City’s immigrant history, its people, and the importance of celebrating the metropolitan region’s diversity. In addition, the work represents a unique collaboration between an airline, artists, a museum, and an airport. It serves to welcome travelers as they pass through Terminal C, elevating the travel experience through the visual arts.
Mariam Ghani’s, The Worlds We Speak is a compelling visualization of the linguistic diversity of the tri-state metropolitan region. Measuring some 365 square feet and installed on the wall of Terminal C’s baggage claim, The Worlds We Speak is a colorful mosaic of hundreds of handmade ceramic tiles and is composed of six spherical clusters representing Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, Manhattan, the Bronx, the greater tri-state area, and Staten Island. Set against a stormy sky, each individual tile within the clusters is engraved with an endonym, the name used by a community to refer to their own language in their own script.
Using data from the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA) “NYC Language Map,” Ghani’s work spotlights the over 700 languages and dialects spoken in the regions most served by LaGuardia Airport.
Rashid Johnson’s, “The Travelers” Broken Crowd is a giant abstract mural, 45-foot tall x 15-foot wide, arranged with 60 portraits in a grid format. Some faces are obscured by spilled black soap and black wax, while jagged clusters of tile and mirror fragments highlight others. The vibrancy of the group reflects the energy and thrill of travel, while their direct gaze hints at the collective concerns that connect all communities. Johnson’s work invites travelers to pause momentarily to reflect and wander in unexpected directions.
Virginia Overton’s, Skylight Gems is a multi-level sculpture. For Overton’s work, she repurposed salvaged skylight sections from junkyards and constructed matching halves to create new enclosed structures illuminated from within. These illuminated structures, or ‘jewels,’ are suspended from each of the atrium’s three levels and are visible to visitors throughout Terminal C. Skylight Gems celebrates the ingenuity of New York City’s architecture while also capturing the excitement that travel – and the moment of arrival – inspires in both residents and tourists alike.
Ronny Quevedo’s, Pacha Cosmopolitanism Overtime incorporates the floors of gymnasiums that are painted in a way that draws a parallel between movement in sports activities and migration over local and international borders. The use of gold and silver leaf pays tribute to the role of light in his work and a sense of movement when viewed from different perspectives. The artist’s commission is an homage to the diverse communities that call New York City home, honoring their resilience amid new and changing circumstances.
Fred Wilson’s, Mother is a monumental work that incorporates black starlight globes and droplets, which he calls ‘drips.’ Wilson was inspired by his own experience while traveling via airplane; with the world below reduced to small dots, he reflected on humanity’s complex and enriching relationship with the earth.
For Mother, Wilson has removed country names from the globes, instead using swatches of vibrant colors to distinguish land masses. Stripped of their use as maps or geographical aids, the globes illustrate how interconnected communities are today, locally and internationally.
Aliza Nisenbaum’s, The Ones Who Make It Run is a large-scale painted mural that focuses on sixteen Delta and Port Authority employees, as well as their service providers, among the many thousands who keep the terminal running smoothly each day. The painting includes pilots, flight attendants, police officers, firefighters, customer service agents, Urban Pathways staff (homeless outreach), taxi dispatchers, and individuals working in facilities and maintenance. Together, these employees represent the strength and diversity of the Delta Air Lines and Port Authority community. The current installation is a reproduction of an oil painting, and its final mosaic artwork will be installed in 2024.
Newark Liberty International Airport: Terminal A in Partnership With Public Art Fund
As the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s program to redevelop Newark Liberty International Airport transforms the airport into a world-class, state-of-the-art facility, the new 1-million square feet Terminal A, which opened in January 2023, represents the largest single investment in New Jersey in the Port Authority’s history.
For the redevelopment of the airport, Public Art Fund was invited to partner with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and Munich Airport NJ (the terminal operator at Newark Liberty Airport) and direct the commission of two monumental, site-specific permanent public art installations to greet travelers as they pass through the new Terminal A. “A panel was assembled of college professors, art aficionados, and a mix of people from the community to evaluate the different proposals presented by the Public Art Fund,” said Jim Heitmann, “The group’s diverse input reflected the community as the terminal was being built, and through the Port Authority’s participation in the final approval process, that ensured that the goal of having great iconic art as a reflection of the community was met.”
The two artists commissioned to create the artwork at Newark Airport were Layqa Nuna Yawar and Karyn Olivier. Spanning the arrivals and departures halls and viewed from multiple levels and various points along a traveler’s passage through Terminal A, the artists’ works reflect the creativity, innovation, and diversity of New Jersey and the surrounding region.
Karyn Olivier’s, Approach is composed of two 50-foot suspended helix-like sculptures that spiral down from the departures level to the arrivals hall of the airport. Created out of powder-coated aluminum and stainless steel, one of the structures depicts daytime and the other night. In creating Approach, the artist embarked on a grand photographic survey of New Jersey’s iconic skylines, local architecture, infrastructure, and topography, captured from sunrise to sunset.
Each double-sided spiral ring presents a bird’s eye view when looking up and a skyward view when looking down at it from above. As passengers approach the sculpture, the rings begin to align concentrically and reflect a mosaic of the land and the sky, and of time and place.
Layqa Nuna Yawar’s, Between the Future Past is a luminous 350-feet wide x 18-foot high historical mural, reimagined in its format to reflect an ongoing cyclical time that embraces past, present, and future. Composed of acrylic paint and inkjet print on fabric and mounted to an aluminum panel, Yawar’s vivid, multi-colored mural celebrates the rich diversity of Newark, New Jersey, and the New York metropolitan area. The artwork features native flora and fauna, emphasizing nature as a symbol of growth.
From airport workers to aviators, indigenous people to community figures and local activists, to immigrants, musicians, poets, New Jersey landmarks, and more, Between the Future Past depicts a wide range of influential individuals, past and present, across time, culture, race, and gender, highlighting the narratives of their accomplishments and the perseverance of those overlooked.
Nicholas Baume, Director & Chief Curator of the Public Art Fund, said, “A great work of art does many things. It’s operated on many levels, and I think the artists were very successful in creating work that’s very accessible. You don’t need a Ph.D.; you don’t need to have gone to art school or know art history to get something out of these works. They’re generous, but they’re also very smart and thoughtful. There’s no daylight, in a sense, between creating a work that can be very accessible and creating a work that’s a serious, major work of art. And I think that’s something that the artworks at the airports really does.”
All the works are a magnificent reflection of time and place.
Another Voice With Nicholas Baume,
Director & Chief Curator of the Public Art Fund
During an interview with Metropolitan Airport News, Nicholas Baume reflected on the significance of public art, the Public Art Fund’s collaboration with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and their partners at LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport. Here he discusses how the major public art commissions at LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B helped to transform the airport to the world-class facility that it is.
“It’s an amazing project to be involved with! The Public Art Fund has been working with major artists at different points of their careers since 1977, and given the curatorial expertise and international leg work that we’ve been able to establish over that time, the opportunity to partner with the Port Authority and LaGuardia Gateway Partners was tremendously exciting, because it meant that there would be opportunities for major commissions of contemporary art to be a prominent part of this very important and very long-awaited infrastructure upgrade to an airport that had declined, famously.
I think that what these four artists and the work they have done at Terminal B has shown us that a major piece of urban infrastructure like an airport can also be a civic space that we as a community, as New Yorkers, can be proud of and that we can feel reflects our values and the kinds of shared spaces and experiences that we want to be able to have, and of course, share with people that we welcome from all over the world. It’s amazing to have a beautiful, light-filled and efficient, well-functioning airport be a space that you can celebrate and be proud of… and that you feel captures the spirit of New York City and takes it to another level of significance, and impact, and pleasure as a place to be.
Artists can capture that essence of a place in a way that is so much more authentic, and unexpected, and delightful, rather than what can feel like cliches of marketing that are often the familiar grounding of airports and train stations. We love the Statue of Liberty and the iconic parts of New York City, but through the lens of a brilliant artist like Laura Owens, I 🍕 NY, those icons are transformed into a wonderfully imaginative side space that also combines so many of the different things in the city that we love, whether it’s a pizza slice, or Timberland boots, or an everything bagel, or the Staten Island Ferry, or even things going the way of the Dodo…like the Metro Card.
Through the eyes of an artist, all of that can be reinvented with imagination and wit, creativity and playfulness, all the things that make that a wonderfully unexpected tribute to New York. And, of course, with LaGuardia Vistas, we can talk about history.
Here’s an artist from Berlin, Sabine Hornig, who was very inspired by the politician for whom the airport is named for, and there are probably many people who never knew that he ever existed.
So instead of a bronze statue at the top of the airport that everybody ignores as they go past, LaGuardia Vistas is an example of what it means to reinvent a monument and share the words of this very progressive politician. It not only creates this wonderful collage of the elements of the city’s skyscape, it also brings to life the words and thoughts of the man who created the airport. It’s a history lesson, a celebration, and it’s a wonderfully imaginative reinvention. It’s also like walking through a cathedral with a stained glass window, with the light pouring in.”