You can’t easily miss one of the most sensational art exhibitions currently on view in Chicago. Tickets are not even sold at the high prices that have become the norm at American museums, and security checks include metal detectors and the removal of shoes. Forget bringing your own bottled water, or any liquid for that matter.
Yes, I’m talking about the airport.
At O’Hare International Airport in particular, sculptures, videos, photographs and collages by the city’s most exciting mid-level and up-and-coming artists debuted in the newly renovated and expanded Terminal 5 in October. The finished artworks currently number 16, with three more nearing completion. $3.5 million public art commission It is Chicago’s largest acquisition in three decades for local creators including Jina Valentine, Bernard Williams and Huong Ngo.
Airports are strange places to encounter art. Like hospitals and shopping malls (and very unlike museums and galleries), their primary raison d’être has nothing to do with viewing art. This makes them unsuitable for exhibiting art with unconventional and unique thoughts that relate to their patients, clients, and world travelers. There are also doctors, tradesmen, Transportation Security Administration employees and custodial personnel to consider. These people all have needs other than contemplating postmodern conceptualism versus abstract expressionism, for example, but various types of aesthetic experience can contribute meaningfully to the non-distracting, healthy, and welcoming atmospheres that are at the heart of these environments.
Airport managers have risen to the occasion, with the art becoming an increasingly familiar sight in hubs from Philadelphia to Amsterdam. At O’Hare, curator Ionit Behar and architect Andrew Schachman, working together as Behar X Schachman, have selected an excitingly diverse selection of artists; many of them took creative leaps to adapt their existing practices to the large budgets and material constraints of a permanent installation. It’s a place where most people pass very quickly, under intense scrutiny, after the exhaustion of long-haul flights and with many other things on their minds.
Some of the most obvious display problems were cleverly solved by presenting almost all of the artwork in lavish wall displays that punctuate the International Arrivals Corridor (an endless corridor guiding deplaning passengers to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement and its famously slow lines). Captive viewers could do a lot worse than Lake Mayumi’s “Shinsekai Yori/From the New World,” a massive collage of flowers, spirals and other motifs scanned from kimonos and arranged into a tornado and a giant flying turtle amid wispy clouds. and a golden sky. Equally worth the wait is Leonard Suryajaya’s “Search for Connection,” a diorama that expands the surreal intensity of staged portraits of family and friends through realistic human-eye wallpaper and floor-to-ceiling shelves that are themselves covered in grinning mouths and paintings. It’s full of intricately patterned soda cans, “welcome cat” figurines and fake plants.
As might be expected, Chicago and Chicagoans feature prominently as subjects. Assaf Evron offers a clever view of Lake Michigan; repeats three times the same perfect image of our inland sea; once as a framed photograph, twice as a landscape seen through a window wall hung with billowing blue velvet curtains. (A photo mural, really.) Chris Pappan takes a long, healing stance, respectfully depicting a Sac and Fox chief in three ledger drawings, enlarged and mounted over a bright purple map of historic Chicago from a time when Fox and other tribes lived. He lived freely in the region.
The crowd-pleasing video “Skywalkers,” by Wills Glasspiegel, Winfield RedCloud Woundedeye and Jemal “P-Top” Delacruz, showcases two fast-paced local boogie styles: Chicago footwork developed by black youth as part of the house music scene in the late 1990s and grass dancing, a surviving Northern Plains choreography. Dressed in festive attire with high tops and hoodies, respectively, the dancers battle it out in iconic locations that top tourists’ must-see lists – the Willis Tower’s Skydeck and the lakeshore with the skyline behind – but less familiar locations are just as important. such as the South Side Community Arts Center, the former African-American arts center. The distinctive wood-paneled gallery, hung with five pieces from the center’s unique collection, forms the setting for Faheem Majeed’s “Push Pull”; In this scene, artist Damon Green somberly, compassionately, exhaustingly unrolls, gathers, and drags an enormous length of fabric in one place. end of the screen to the other.
The Arrivals Corridor is a one-way route. Sometimes the passengers are aligned with Green, but often they go in intriguingly opposite directions. The same can’t be said for Selina Trepp’s raucous stop-motion animation “We Walk Together,” which features figures assembled from colorful studio pieces, waving vases, flock stones, pipe cleaners and tassels, all moving in unison with the visitors. . They’re weirder and more clumsy, but there’s always a good enough sense of humor to keep you going, no matter how jet-lagged you feel after that 15-hour flight from Geneva. “We Walk Together” might not be travel-related if installed anywhere else, but it is here in the most useful way. Similarly, Nelly Agassi’s neon sign flashes “welcome home” and “come home” in her son’s shaky handwriting, greeting people returning from abroad but also plaintively asking them to do so if they haven’t already.
O’Hare has not yet made the list The World’s Best Art at the AirportAn award given by air transport rating agency Skytrax. But it will definitely happen.
Lori Waxman is a freelance critic.
The works are exhibited at the International Fair in the Arrivals Corridor at O’Hare International Airport Terminal 5 and elsewhere throughout the airport; more information at www.flychicago.com