May 28, 2021
Airports are not art museums, but the work of an artist goes a long way in creating a sense of place, sharing history and culture and calming people in a very busy travel environment.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport is extremely fortunate to host the works of 16 artists from around the world, including people from right here in North Carolina. From sculptures that welcome passengers as they drive up to the terminal to colorful and interactive installations hanging in the terminal, there is plenty for passengers to study and enjoy.
The American Association of Airport Executives, a membership organization for people working at airports, pondered the role of public art in general and public art in airports specifically a few years ago.
“To truly witness the character of a city, one needs a composite view. Local history and the natural landscape can communicate time-honored value; while commerce or industry can tell of economic prowess and a community’s plans for the future. Just as these lenses can reveal the features and talents of a population, so too can the productivity of a city’s creatives. Fueled by the interests and imaginations of artists, curators, and other arts workers, public artworks and exhibitions can distinguish their surroundings with enticing insight.
“When situated in an airport, the role of the public art is given another dimension. In addition to symbolizing a place, the work now serves the traveler—welcoming, grounding, or inspiring them. As passengers do look up from the busy activity of a trip, thoughtfully curated artworks can be humanizing reminders of travel’s gift of discovery.”
In 2015 the prestigious Travel + Leisure magazine named its list of nine “American Airports for Art Lovers.” While CLT was not on the list, our airport is home to some truly thought-provoking and innovative art installations.
“Loops,” in The Plaza between Concourses D and E, is a suspended kinetic sculpture inspired by aircraft contrails. Its rotation is motorized but that does not take away from the slow, measured, hypnotic movement created by the 200 linear feet of intertwined tubing.
On Concourse A Expansion, “Interconnected” is a 140-foot-long, 10-foot high digital screen that takes data generated by the airport from aircraft movements, people, baggage handling and other digital data and transforms it into mesmerizing, always moving, ever-changing digital sculpture. There are three screens of artist Refik Anadol’s digital art on the concourse. At night they are visible in vivid color to people driving up to the terminal curb front. At the time of its installation, CLT was the first airport in the world to have a large data-driven piece of artwork like “Interconnected
Another example of art in motion can be found in the center of the Atrium. Hanging above a sushi bar, the “First in Flight” mobile features 16 aircraft, including the International Space Station, a Boeing 747 and the Spirit of St. Louis, on three levels all rotating around each other.
Even static art on display at CLT weave a story about aviation and travel into the artists’ creative mind and onto canvas.
“Playful Race of Life Patterns” by Jonathan Grauel at Gate A3 is a layered painting that captures the city’s history in textiles alongside NASCAR heritage and flying in a whimsical way. Speaking of whimsy, pigs do fly … along with fish, alligators, bears and horses … in the humorous “Journey I” and “Journey II” at Gates B3 and B4.
Each piece or art in the airport is a showcase of the people who live in Charlotte, the diversity of the community the airport serves and the history and culture of the city. The airport is often a flyer’s first impression of the city and North Carolina. Art is but one way to tell our story to a captive audience.
Queen Charlotte Getting a Makeover 2021
Note: The Queen Charlotte statute is currently off display. Away for repairs, she will return in time to be unveiled inside the new CLT terminal lobby, which is under renovation now through 2025.