Marriage of Art + Airports

Back in the 70s air travel was the newest and most luxurious mode of travel, something only the fortunate few could enjoy. In less than 35 years that mode of transport has become the busiest, stressful but unavoidable mode to connect with the world. While airlines innovate and stylise the actual travel within the confines of their aircraft the stressful and mundane part is the passage on ground. With volatility lurking through our economies and security the glamour of being at the airport has been replaced by anxiety of being delayed or worse cancelled due to security issues. To soothe the nerves from stress and anxiety airports around the globe have taken to sensory stimulation through art and imagination. What began as an airport exhibit grew slowly but steadily into a long-term commitment to art at programs at the airport. Today some airports have married art with their design and infrastructure quite seamlessly. After having reached out to many of the world’s busiest and famous airports I was surprised to discover not all of them are fervent about the integration of art into design. However those leading the way have decades behind them in this venture. My curiosity piqued when I had seven of the world’s airports with such robust air programs that it could well be seen as the airport was created around the art. Join me as I take you along these airports and share about their commitment towards art. 

Vancouver International Airport

Talking about the marriage of art with airports, a shining example would be Vancouver’s International Airport or YVR. The art is integral to its design, facility and decor, impressing upon the travellers the British Columbia’s geographical diversity and culture. The art transforms into themes representing British Columbia’s heritage of the Native American culture, from the forces in the Pacific ocean and coastal traditions to nature’s bounty and the sky that covers British Columbia’s snow-capped peaks. The airport has won awards for this very thematic layout of the art embedded in its architecture and decor. When I connected with the team at the YVR they were evidently very proud of the art at the airport and doesn’t seem like it’s just an initiative but quite inclusive to the operations. The artists who contribute to the airport arrival and departure experience also include First Nations artists through the YVR Art Foundation. It goes to show the intent of the airport towards art when there is a 23-year-old non-profit philanthropic foundation to support the art world and its budding artists. The displays also include some of Yukon’s emerging artists which is quite fascinating given the diversity in a single region of Canada.

Some of the art on display include, Susan Point’s Musqueam Welcome Figures at the bottom of the escalators in Canada Customs Hall, display a traditional Coast Salish welcome to travellers. Then there is the Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid with materials like Bronze cast and jade green patina. This display is described as the heart of the airport and is literally a theme of the art works. The sculpture was inspired by nineteenth-century miniature canoes carved in argillite, a soft sedimentary rock that is found near Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. Hetux by Connie Watts is named after her grandmother and appears as a mythological force bestowing good energy to the travellers. Made from aluminium powder coating, baltic birch and satin, the thunderbird looms over the YVR’s Pacific Passage, displaying images of celestial bodies that represent aspects of Hetux’s character including intensity, determination, joy and prosperity. This airport certainly uses its art as a form of both sensorial invigoration and calm to ease the travel anxiety in an otherwise glacial environment of airport terminals that only. 

If you wish to glance through the art they have an entire page on the website to preview the displayed work. YVR

SFO, San Francisco

Image Courtesy : SFO Museum
Image Courtesy : SFO Museum

Flying south of Vancouver is another glorious example of San Francisco International Airport which has been long been home to one of the most important and valuable public art collections in the United States. The representative from the airport shared with me in much detail about the airport’s journey as an artsy airport. SFO has integrated art into its design and experience during the many renovations it has seen so far. About four decades ago The San Francisco Arts Commission began acquiring artwork for the airport and has over 100 artworks in a broad range of style, media, and approach. From discreet works like paintings, sculpture and even tapestry, to large architecturally integrated works and interactive installations. What began as humble beginnings evolved into robust exhibitions at the SFO over the past forty years. Back in the mid-70s, The Arts Commission’s program began at SFO. Fast forward to 1980, the San Francisco Airport Commission collaborated with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco to create an exhibition program at San Francisco International Airport. After the first year of success, they set up a department to produce exhibitions to infuse some warmth and culture into the airport’s environment and display the life and lifestyle of the Bay Area to its travellers. The airport today has two art programs: the public, permanent art acquired through the City’s art enrichment program, managed by the San Francisco Arts Commission, and SFO Museum, home to a rotating exhibition program and aviation collection. In 1999, SFO Museum became the first museum in an airport to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums and is a widely imitated model for museums operating in public arenas. Today, the Museum features more than twenty galleries throughout the Airport’s terminals and produces approximately forty exhibitions annually.

Celebrating a Vision; post-security in Terminal 3. Image Courtesy: SFO Museum

The carefully curated art collection includes paintings by important Bay Area artists like Jay DeFeo, Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Bechtle, Roy deforest, Joan Brown, William Wiley to name a few. There are sculptures by internationally known artists like Yayoi Kusama, Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Deborah Butterfield,  Rufino Tamayo, Isamu Noguchi, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Seiji Kunishima, and Manuel Neri. There are large-scale architecturally integrated works by Vito Acconci, James Carpenter, Janet Echelman, Lewis de Soto, Ned Kahn, Joyce Kozloff, Larry Sultan, Mike Mandel, James Melchert, Amy Ellingston, Val Britton and Norie Sato. We have several interactive artworks by Werner Klotz, Charles Sowers, Walter Kitundu, and Eric Stahl.
The past decade has been quite stressful on our travel experiences given the heightened security checks and advisories floating around. Artwork at airports has a lot to do with alleviating the travellers’ anxiety while arriving or departing the airport. The artwork and exhibitions at SFO sets the tone for visitors to experience one of the most vibrant cities in the world. If you are travelling to San Francisco Bay Area you might want to take a look at the art on the website – SFO Museum

O’Hare International Airport, Chicago

Chinese paper cuts. Image Courtesy : Chicago Department of Aviation
Chinese paper cuts. Image Courtesy : Chicago Department of Aviation

Art has no borders and no barriers. It reaches out to people from every corner of the globe and communicates evoking emotions. In the midwest,  the Chicago Department of Aviation partners with several cultural agencies to curate the art at O’Hare International Airport. These partnerships include, City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Chicago Children’s Museum, the After School Matters program and Adler Planetarium. Showcasing Chicago’s emerging and renowned artists to reach a global audience and immerse the travellers into the vibe of the city upon arrival while leave with a cherished memory on departure. Art provides great color, contrast and character to the airport.

The art at O’Hare is engaging enough to consume over two hours to visit every art/exhibit on display. There is something for everyone. The art featured in Terminal 1 and the CTA Pedestrian Tunnel from the After School Matters program provides great insight into Chicago culture. Kids will enjoy the After School Matters Gallery and the larger than life Brachiosaurus model in Terminal 1. Aviation enthusiasts will appreciate the Butch O’Hare exhibit in Terminal 2 and Jet Trails in Terminal 1, and science and technology buffs should visit the “Year of the Lights” exhibit by Adler Planetarium in the CTA Pedestrian Tunnel, geography lovers can view the America exhibit in Terminal 5. The Urban Garden and green wall exhibit in Terminal 3 are fascinating points of interest that focus on environmental sustainability. Some other popular cultural exhibits include City Windows in Terminal 1, the Kenar exhibit in Terminal 5, and “Skies are Blue” in Terminal 2. If a trip to Chicago is on your calendar any time soon do take a moment to browse through the display at the O’Hare International Airport.

LAX, Los Angeles


The Art Program at the Los Angeles International Airport or LAX as it is commonly known,  has a clear intention to bring together artists who express the cultural diversity of Los Angeles through paintings, installations and permanent art fixtures. Not only does it humanise the airport but throws open the gates of a well rounded lifestyle in LA beyond showbiz. In partnership with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the LAWA or Los Angelse World Airports give platform to emerging artists as well as some known names. For instance their recent new art installation ‘Transfiguration’ by Erika Lizee in the Tom Bradley International Terminal is an illusionistic acrylic painting and abstract sculptural elements made of Duralar film. The artist explore the hidden and undefined world existing beyond the visible realm. The installation is on view for ticketed passengers with connecting flights in the Customs Hallway, Arrivals Level, through mid-February 2017.

Last month, LAWA Art Program commissioned an original performance work at LAX, entitled Everywhere Nowhere directed by Sarah Elgart as a part of their Influx: Art at LAX. The performance was site-specific, multi-sensory spectacle of movement, sound, and color. Influx features 11 original, site-specific art installations located throughout LAX and includes the work of 45 Los Angeles-based artists. LAX invited people to its first Art Walk, which is a self-guided tour of the various Influx installations located in the airport’s public spaces. As they explore the Influx installations, visitors can call in using their cells phones and listen to pre-recorded audio interviews with the artists. The Influx Art Walk map is also available for download.  The airport in partnership with the DCA also hosted a video art installation at Tom Bradley International Terminal  called See Change which comprised of moving image art by 17 artists. This is a permanent, multi-faceted installation featuring 28 site-specific media artworks and four hours of original programming. Filmed in the lapse of five years, moving images of crowds in public spaces are distorted through a lens; treated as a canvas, the video format is then cut and pasted weaving layers of different periods and places resulting in a color field composition of intervals of time within a space. The installation includes two large-scale displays, designed to enhance the arrival area’s ambience: a 58-screen, 90-foot linear video filmstrip is suspended from the ceiling, and a 25-screen media wall that borders the terminal’s dining area. Located in the terminal’s arrival hall, See Change is accessible to the general public daily from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. LAX also has exhibitions with new artists every now and then and you can visit these exhibits during your layover time as well. Some of the works that have been on display in the past featured artists from Colombia, South Korea, California and China. Some of these artists are well known from New York’s art scene and across the globe. The diversity that attracts people to Los Angeles is well portrayed on the mammoth canvas at the Airport and enriches the experiences of travellers showcasing a different concept of a city well known just for its glamour. For more details visit LAX 

Schiphol, Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the gateway to the European sense of liberation and harmonious living among all cultures. Proud of its long history with trade and exports, there is a sense of inclusion when it comes to the Dutch lifestyle be it with food, traditions and art. Such pride is depicted in form of a movement at the Schiphol Airport called The Dutch Way. The movement is all about the Dutch and their cosmopolitan outlook to life. Because of its inclusivity Amsterdam ropes in many artists and performers to exchange inspiring ideas that influence their craft. One of the pioneers of the ‘Dutch way’ was Jan Dellaert, who designed the innovative plan for Amsterdam Airport Schiphol that remains so recognisable today. Art has always had an integral role to play in the design of the airport since 1960s.  As the airport rightly puts it, art brings emotion to a place where operations focus on processes and efficiency. Both international and Dutch artists are represented at Schiphol, with many works commissioned especially from Dutch artists for display at the airport, such as Danielle Kwaaitaal’s photographs and the Two Incredible Sitting Snowmen by Marc Claassen. One well-known relatively old work is Kees Franse´s Apple, which dates from 1975. This large wooden apple served as a meeting point for a long time. Many passengers sign their names on this eye-catching object Art at Schiphol has a sole purpose to evoke emotions and etch memories at the airport, though some artists have a knack for the provocative Schiphol being a business friendly hub for travellers does not intend to offend any ethnicity. Art at the airport needs to adhere to certain predefined criteria to be exhibited. Schiphol takes great care to curate its art as it considers the works representing what the airport and city’s expression. It has a collection of some eighty artworks from well-known and less well-known.

Rust Cloud. Image Courtesy : Schiphol Airport
Rust Cloud. Image Courtesy : Schiphol Airport

Dutch and international artists. The works of art at Schiphol are purchased by a special art committee. This committee is chaired by the President of Schiphol Group. When an airport extension is completed or when a Schiphol Group building undergoes major renovation, Schiphol commissions an artist to design a work specifically for that area. Much of the art collection is displayed in the area before passport control and is therefore accessible to everyone. If an airport takes its pictograms as serious artwork then it is very serious about its marriage to art. The signposting at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has been awarded many prizes and serves as a model for other airports around the world. A great deal of prior research was carried out on the signposting, which was developed in the early 1960s by Total Design and updated in the 1990s by Bureau Mijksenaar in Amsterdam.

Some of the works of art on display at the airport are Niijima Floats, Dale Chihuly (1996) – Dale Chihuly’s floating, coloured glass baubles at the entrance to the WTC are inspired by memories of his childhood, and the small glass baubles from Japanese fishing nets that would wash up on the beach. Then there is Knot, Shinkichi Tajiri (1974). Tajiri has built up a diverse oeuvre with some regular motifs, such as the knot and the warrior. Shinkichi’s Knot is located in Arrivals Hall 1. The definition of space is an architectural challenge and is one of the fundamental concerns of sculpture, along with volume and weight. These fundamental concepts are recurring themes in Volten’s work, many of which have been conceived on an impressive scale. The Rust Cloud is a typical example of his work from the 1960s. Nice Trip, Hugo Kaagman (1993) A characteristic of Kaagman´s work is its commentary on typical Dutch culture. The wall he created for Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is a personal and romanticised perspective on clichéd images of Holland, and leaves transfer passengers in no doubt about which country they are in. To visit the artwork on your next trip to Amsterdam visit

Changi International Airport, Singapore

One of the busiest and most awarded airports in the world – Changi International Airport in Singapore goes to prove its standing in the aviation industry. It takes art very seriously to ensure every traveller walking through its gates has an evocative experience but also a relief to the mind from the usual grind of jet setting. It has specially curated and commissioned art for its Terminal 3. Some of these artworks integrate natural elements into the highly technological confines of an airport, while others draw their inspiration from symbols from Singapore’s cultural landscape and heritage. In the public area at Terminal 3 is an installation next to the Skytrain landing and framed by the departure hall’s large plate windows are the marble sculptures of Han Sai Por’s “Floral Inspirations”. Resembling a cluster of seedpods writ-large is a connection to Singapore as a garden city.

A large artwork, extending nearly 13 meters from arrival to departure level in the main concourse, is Christian Moeller’s “Daisy”. Bringing function to flair in a flirtatious manner, this artwork combines a propeller of fiber glass finished in red with white tips (Singapore’s national colors) with a robotic arm mounted on a pedestal. “Birds In Flight” by Baet Yeok Kuan at terminal 3 are three-dimensional murals mounted on walls.This sculpture depicts the flight trajectory of the Arctic tern, a species of seabirds that migrate distances that span the globe from its northern breeding ground, which gave rise to its appellation, to the oceans around Antarctica in the opposite pole. This stainless steel sculpture signifies the essence of today’s traveller who fly across meridians to meet loved ones, conduct business, indulge in varied cultures and educate themselves. “Kinetic Rain” by ART+COM at Terminal 1 (public area) is made of 1216 bronze droplets, the two Kinetic Rain sculptures in Terminal 1 are the latest addition to Changi Airport’s collection of art installations and displays. Depending on the shape of the art form, the droplets travel a maximum distance of 7.3m from the ceiling to the lowest point of the pattern. The Wings of Mexico is an interactive sculpture by celebrated Mexican artist Jorge Marín. Supported by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Embassy of Mexico in Singapore and Changi Airport Group, the Wings of Mexico display in Singapore Changi Airport celebrates 50 years of Singapore’s independence, as well as 40 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Mexico. Changi Airport does showcase its strong commitment to art and the marriage looks everlasting by the artists and their work displayed at the various public areas of the airport. Is this reason enough to travel to Singapore ? Do take a look at the art online before arriving at the airport for a better understanding of the program.

Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai


When you think about India art is the first visual that seeps into the mind before the olfactory nerves sense the seasoning. In 2014, Mumbai’s T2 terminal saw a sea of change in terms of design, technology and cultural integration. Symbolic of India’s melting pot or cultural salad whatever you call it, Mumbai’s international airport has every corner of India painted in form of art. The airport terminal uses art as a medium to infuse the eastern world and civilisation into the travellers mind. From the motifs to the peacock feather designed entrance or the lotus lamps at the lounges every detail of the airport’s design is contributed significantly by artists and their work. The terminal is home to  India’s largest public art programme, titled ‘Jaya He’, in the form of a 3.2 km multi-storey Art Wall, illuminated by skylights, that has over 5000 pieces of artwork and artifacts from every region of India. The sharp contrasts that Mumbai beholds are gently but deftly portrayed by the series of artwork flanking the path towards baggage claim. Bollywood or the theatrical nuances of the city’s lifestyle have been embedded in the work of art and the airport’s design. Indian culture celebrates every rite of passage and travel is just that. Crossing a threshold in India is blessed with positive vibes and blessings of the hosts or the family and so are the thresholds at the airport enriched with such pieces of art. Immerse yourself into the gateway to the east by visiting

Author: Neha Wasnik

Neha Wasnik has been a blogger since 2009. She began her blogging journey with wellness and online marketing blogs while heading the PR and Marketing of luxury hotels. She has been sharing stories about travel and hospitality since 2015 with various travel websites while working with travel apps as a content marketing professional.

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  1. Hi are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own. Do you require any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!


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