Through the ambitious LAX Art Program, the airport becomes one of the country’s most visited art galleries.
QUICK:Which is LA’s most visited art gallery? The Getty? The Broad? LACMA? Are you sure?
They are all impressive, and we love them. But consider: In 2019, the year before the pandemic, LAX handled more than 88 million passengers. In various years before that, LA’s biggest art museums drew maybe 10 million per year, as best we at the Club can calculate.
But wait, you say. LAX is, well, an airport. (And a great one.) But look around while you’re getting your Starbucks and pulling up the boarding pass on your phone – there is fine art everywhere. Last year, 2021, LAX presented 119 different artworks in 18 different exhibits (some permanent, some limited-time).
The impressive LAX Art Program, the product of two City departments working together – LA World Airports and Cultural Affairs – and a local gallery, has turned LAX into a strong presenter of vibrant west coast contemporary art. LAX is often the only view of this vital art scene that visitors will ever experience, and the LAX Art Program takes that responsibility very seriously. (The program also includes performance art and music, which have been limited during the pandemic.)
In these pages we’re showcasing the art at LAX that you may have missed, and encouraging you to look again.
(One important note for those wanting to experience the art firsthand: Your visit will have to be travel-related. Entry to LAX is allowed only for airline passengers and persons meeting, accompanying or assisting them, and airport personnel whose employment requires their presence. LAX is closed to the general public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.)
The mission of the LAX Art Program is to present diverse and memorable art experiences to enhance and humanize the travel experience at LAX and the LAX FlyAway bus terminal in Van Nuys. Featuring local and regional artists through temporary exhibitions, permanent art installations and cultural performances, the Art Program provides access to an array of contemporary artworks that reflect and celebrate the region’s creative caliber.
The LAX Art Program began in 1990 and has grown to include rotating art exhibitions, permanent public art installations and music and cultural performances to enhance and humanize the travel experience. Los Angeles World Airports has been partnering with the Dept. of Cultural Affairs for more than 17 years, during which time LAX has presented more than 150 art exhibits featuring hundreds of artists from Los Angeles and the surrounding region.
The program presents up to 20 exhibitions a year in collaboration with Cultural Affairs to create vibrant public spaces at the airport.
Exhibition sites are located at departure and arrival areas that serve both the traveling public and visitors alike. These intersecting sites of engagement provide the first experiences of contemporary Southern California art as travelers enter Los Angeles, and they offer the final artistic impression as travelers return home.
The LAX Art Program proudly features Southern California artists and curators working in the field today, resulting in exhibitions and installations that reflect the identity of Los Angeles—its aspirations, its values, and its imagination.
In 2021, the program displayed 18 exhibitions containing 119 artworks from paintings to sculptures and even a sound art installation that presents a tapestry of compositions reflecting Los Angeles’ acoustic offerings.
A committee has been formed to begin to develop, curate and produce art for the airport’s massive Landside Access Modernization Program consisting of a people mover and stations, new terminal buildings and bridges, and remote parking structures and a consolidated rental car facility. One percent of the total budget of the Landside Access Modernization Program is reserved for public art.
LA Rhapsody – Super Moon/Opus No. 1
Location: Level 3, post-security
Upon first encounter, LA Rhapsody portrays a majestic view of the city, but closer inspection reveals that the artwork serves as a platform to examine the daily life of the city. It exposes a multichotomous world where the iconic, the privileged, the mundane and the underrepresented coexist within a stone’s throw.
“LA Rhapsody – Super Moon / Opus No.1,” by Karchi Perlmann. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Installation view of a large panoramic photo on a wall in an airport terminal.
Location: Level 3, pre-security
In this light-filled lobby, viewers may observe how the mood of this site-specific mural changes throughout the day, creating a space to contemplate rigidity versus fluidity. Upon further reflection, one may consider what is seen and not seen, shifting one’s perception to discover a doorway based upon a keyhole perspective of seeing only a portion of something, yet knowing more is beyond.
“Opening” by Tofer Chin. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Installation view of a black, white and grey geometric mural in an airport lobby.
Floating Lady IV
Location: Departures Level, post-security
Gracing the large, airy bus portal, the sculpture is an abstract illusionary work that challenges the viewer’s perception of form. Composed of a Corten steel column bisected by a spine of clear acrylic, the 11-foot-tall artwork highlights DeLap’s facility with geometric shapes and life-long interest in magic as the upper portion of the column appears to mysteriously float atop the lower segment.
“Floating Lady IV” by Tony DeLap. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Installation view of a sculpture with the airfield viewable from the windows behind it.
Your Body Is a Space That Sees
Location: Gate 9, post-security
Los Angeles artist Lia Halloran combines ink and light to celebrate women’s contributions to science. Her large-scale cyanotypes recall telescopic views of the night sky, captured in photographic emulsion on glass plates in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and used by a group of female astronomers to make extraordinary discoveries about the universe.
“Your Body is a Space That Sees” by Lia Halloran. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Installation view of display case with artwork and framed prints on a wall.
Out of the Blue
John David O’Brien (curator)
Out of the Blue references perceptual attentiveness to visual components of art, specifically color and form. The seven artists in this exhibition investigate these elements to delve into their own perceptions. Once they have created a residue of that experience, it is left for you, the viewer, to unravel and relive in your own imagination. The question is, what do you see?
“Out of the Blue” curated by John David O’Brien. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Installation view of art gallery and display case with passengers walking by.
The Letting Go
The Letting Go investigates the complex relationship between past and future, leaving and staying. Artist Debra Scacco’s work questions the singularity of origins, history’s impact on destinations, and our layered relationship with the space between. Formed from a world map and composed of 20,000 feet of rope, this complex web connects the seven continents to major bodies of water and detached landmasses, rendering visible the traces of the journey.
“The Letting Go” by Debra Scacco. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Installation view of a mostly blue rope installation on a grey wall in an airport terminal.
The Portrait Project
Location: Terminal 7-8 Connector
Rushing through the airport to check bags, going through security, boarding the plane, we do not always pay attention to the employees helping us. The person checking us in could also be a mother, father, sister, maybe a poet, artist, fisherman, entrepreneur. This series of portraits highlights the people who work in various capacities at LAX and explores their diverse identities and characteristics.
“The Portrait Project” by Eileen Cowin. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Installation view of a vinyl mural of a portrait photograph in an airport terminal.
Tom Bradley International Terminal
The Friendly Skies
Location: West Gates North Window
The Friendly Skies (2021) features a photograph by artist T. Kelly Mason of clouds over Los Angeles captured from an airplane as it approached the city. The installation freezes the windows in a forever holding pattern of daylight, and establishes a new, celestial dimension of space and time woven between the sky outside and the air inside the terminal. The seamless interaction of these three distinct, yet friendly, skies suggests that travelers from all around the world can bask in a similar peaceful coexistence. Exhibition curated by Megan Steinman.
“The Friendly Skies” by Diana Thater. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Exhibition curated by Megan Steinman.
Tumbleweeds is a site-specific installation that features hand-crafted, botanical sculptures manipulated from wood. Inspired by the tumbleweeds found in the northeastern part of Los Angeles County that extends into the Mojave Desert, this installation manifests artist Pontus Willfors’ ongoing investigation into nature and culture. More specifically, Willfors’ work questions our human existence in relation to the natural world by examining a paradox: are humans part of nature or separate?
“Tumbleweeds” by Pontus Willfors. Photo by SKA Studios LLC., courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Installation view of display case with sculptures inside.
Douglas Fir Reclaimed
Location: Terminal 3 Arrivals Hallway, Baggage Claim
Pontus Willfors created Douglas Fir Reclaimed from 405 two-by-four planks of Douglas fir that were reclaimed from a teardown in Los Angeles. Willfors vertically mounted the boards of varying lengths, side by side, creating a long plane of wood against the wall. With the timbers assembled as a giant, 90-foot wooden canvas, a life-size image of a Douglas fir tree is visible across the surface, horizontally stretching the expanse of the wall.
Photo credit: PanicStudio L.A.
Laurel Canyon, Chaparral Habitat: Native Flora and Fauna
Location: Terminal 3 Arrivals Hallway, Baggage Claim
Cathy Weiss’ installation features large-scale, boldly colored woodcut prints inspired by the indigenous wonders of Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills.
Photo credit: PanicStudio L.A.