Who Gets To Decide?

imagesUSA Today is running a poll to decide which airport in the country has the best art. Denver International Airport (DIA) is one of the front-runners, along with Albuquerque, Chicago, Dallas and Miami. USA Today will announce its list of Top 10 Airport Art destinations on Wednesday.

I’ve been exchanging emails with Chris Stevens, the manager of the art and culture program at DIA, about the USA Today contest.

DIA is home to some of the country’s most polarizing public art pieces including the much-reviled “Mustang” (aka “The Demon Horse”, pictured left) which crushed and killed its creator, artist Luis Jimenez, when it was under constructions nearly six years ago.

“While we are not a large market, the airport does hold some of the most famous and infamous pieces of public art in its collection,” Stevens said.

Stevens is concerned about the adjudication of the USA Today competition. “It is not as much about the art as it is about who has a better marketing and social media campaign,” Stevens said.

Yet in a way, it makes more sense for airport art to be judged by regular citizens (as opposed to professional art critics) than other kinds of art. Airport art is by definition public art. So why not let the public decide?

Having said that, I’m sort of bored with hearing locals and tourists complaining about works like “Mustang” at DIA. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, from a Denver Post article that was published in February:

“He looks like he’s going to kill me,” Jennifer Newson said in the DIA terminal. “It’s not really settling when you’re driving to get on a flight and then you see the ‘demon horse.’ ”

I happen to think “Mustang” is an awe-inspiring piece. I kind of wish the top international art critics would weigh in on this one — and some of the other works on display in airports across the land that tend to attract fairly superficial and predictable responses from the general public but generally go un-appraised by art experts.

With airports becoming increasingly dedicated to the idea of stimulating travelers’ hearts and minds as they wait for their flights, airport art could use some intelligent commentary — alongside the thumbs up / thumbs down evaluations of the passing public.






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  1. says

    The pic and your article don’t make it clear the Demon Mustang is of monumental proportions. It weighs 9000 pounds. The head and mane alone are about 6 feet tall. It’s also quite well-endowed (sorry, no measurements available) which might contribute to its controversial nature. But what else would you expect from Denver, home to the Broncos. The artist lived in Hondo, NM but hailed from El Paso, which to my mind, explains a few things. In some odd way, Juarez seems to be the true aesthetic center of what much Southwest art is becoming. Perhaps that’s not all negative — or at least we can hope…

  2. says

    Don’t forget San Francisco that has the requisite and GSA-required public art along with an accredited art museum on-site that rotates exhibitions regularly throughout all three terminals. Every visit reveals something new thanks to this significant investment by the airport, its vendors and its airlines.

  3. says

    Like San Francisco, Phoenix Sky Habor also houses an art museum with rotating exhibits throughout three terminals, as well as a gallery space, and permanently installed public art pretty much everywhere throughout the airport. To complement the regionally themed art, the airport is committed to food service vendors that are also locally owned and operated. (I’m just a fan – and a frequent flyer)

  4. Gabriel says

    Unfortunately, the section in the article about LAX refers to the airport’s new giant advertising wall, which is an, admittedly impressive digital billboard, but has nothing to do with the art program.