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Filling the Canvas

Houston Airport System
February 20, 2010

© Houston Airport System
Compelling art pieces can be found across the Houston Airport System properties
In art terms, the Houston Airport System is a masterpiece in the making and the art collection it houses is one of the brush strokes that helps create the design.

With a vision statement that contemplates serving 80 million people by 2020 and a construction palette that includes major projects involving six terminals at Houston’s two main airports, the art coordination and conservation program is developing on a big canvas. This spring, the program is blossoming. Ten new art and conservation projects have been completed or are scheduled for completion by the summer. In addition, half a dozen or so temporary art and cultural exhibits are rounding out
the collection.

“We think our program here at the airports accomplishes many goals including creating a warmer less stressful environment, building our reputation, community outreach and involvement, educating visitors about our region and showcasing the culture,” says Eric Potts, interim director of the Houston Airport System.

The airport art program has many layers, including permanent art pieces, rotating temporary displays, and a scheduled assessment and maintenance program which is all managed by Pam Ingersoll, art administrator for the Houston Airport System.

“Why would we want to look at sterile walls, steel and glass only... so you come in and you see something that humanizes the airport,” Ingersoll says. “Creation of man is brought in and shared with other people. It is something that man has tried to do throughout history, create beauty, create thought, provoke thought, and that’s where our art comes in.”

Ingersoll notes that the airport displays works by local, national and international artists. Among the most recent attractions is the new signature art work at the entrance to William P. Hobby Airport (HOU).

Take Off by artists, Paul Kittleson and Carter Ernst is an enormous stainless steel bird’s nest, 30-feet wide, held 20-feet above the ground by three steel tree trunks. The artwork with its interwoven branches, re-created in industrial materials, is meant to reflect the spirit of Houston’s industries working along the coastal plains.

Some of the new artwork has been donated, like the Croton IV display at IAH. The work, by artist Joseph McDonnell, is an abstract bronze piece measuring five-by-ten feet, mounted on a base of Texas pink granite, nestled in a minimalist landscaped garden with two matching KGA art benches by Kelly Gale Amen.

Much of the HAS art collection has been developed as the result of the civic art ordinance sometimes known as the “percent for art program.” This city ordinance mandates that 1.75 percent of all qualified capital improvement projects be reserved for new art acquisition and professional restoration and treatment of the existing collection.

The unique and sometimes harsh weather and construction conditions at the airports can be challenging when it comes to maintaining the collection according to Ingersoll, who supervises a regularly scheduled assessment and maintenance program using an in-house team.

One of the most recent examples is the restoration of the piece, Passing Through, by artist Leamon Green. A portion of the glass etching was shattered during Hurricane Ike and needed replacement. Or there’s the maintenance of the various bronze busts such as, Mickey Leland by Ed Dwight, located in Terminal D and the donated statue of former President George H. W. Bush called, Winds of Change by David Adickes located in
Terminal C.

The airport system has partnered with a series of non-profit organizations that display a wide-ranging selection of temporary and cultural exhibitions. The newest display is the Houston’s Big On....concept. The original exhibit focused on Houston bayous and their recreational, cultural and financial impact on the region.

A February and March exhibit at both airports will feature the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo complete with children’s artwork, artistically decorated giant boots, airport-grown hay and chuck wagons in the terminals.

NASA has also gotten involved by providing a series of unpublished photographs from various space missions, along with rarely seen or sometimes towering space exploration vehicles and equipment. The NASA display in Terminal D at IAH has drawn praise from many international travelers but one of the most popular works is in Terminal A, home of Moonwalking - otherwise known as the Space Cow - by Silvestri.

Not only is the art free-standing but it is often incorporated into the building construction itself. The most recent example is inside Hobby Airport along the moving sidewalk that connects the terminal to the central concourse.

Over Houston, by Gordon Huether is a selection of abstract aerial photographs of Houston transcribed into alternating glass panels lining the walkway. This work is scheduled to be featured in an upcoming national Southwest Airlines commercial being filmed at Hobby early this month.

Airport art is emerging worldwide as its own amenity. Some trace the phrase, “Airport Art,” to an article entitled, The Eskimos and Airport Art, written by Nelson H.H. Graburn for the Trans-Action Journal. Others say airport art has been around since the airport buildings themselves.

With a total of 28 permanent pieces, the HAS art collection is in its infancy, receiving constant nurturing and given room to grow. Much like the Houston Airport System itself, it is still a work in progress says Ingersoll. “When you leave the airport and you’re about to get on your plane, what is the last thought that you have of Houston? It might be, wow, did you see that work of art?”

Copyright © 2010 - Houston Airport System

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