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Art in Terminal D

Story + Photographs by J R Compton

Related pages - other photos on the DARts cover   Scans of individual DFW Art Program work

What is this policeman watching?

Probably not the art.

It is an airport, and we are in the 21st Century, already well defined by terrorism, which most people still associate with airplanes. In that context, art is far down the list of things cops watch for. Far down on a lot of people's lists.

Except that artists have been working on these pieces since 2001 — the dawn of this yet new century, you might think art was an afterthought for DFW bureaucrats. They are excited about the building and the jobs and the money it's expected to draw, but they barely mention the art. I could not find any mention of it on their website.

Terminal D, however, is a good show, with more art yet to be revealed in perhaps another story after I get my promised tour later.

The Crystal Mountain by New York artist
Dennis Oppenheim in the North Village Social Area
aluminum - 45 x 30 feet

On I-35 down to Austin there once was a roadside attraction with plywood mountains and cheesy rides. Long after it closed, I used to stop and climb that Matterhorn taking photographs of its ice blue weirdness and endlessly repeating patterns, especially after the wood disintegrated in the Texas weather and all that was left was the rotting frame. I wonder what the frame for this mountain looks like.

I like Oppenheim's aluminum mountain and the fact that, like some giant California Redwood, we can drive ourselves through the base of it. But there's a simplicity and humor about the piece that lingers. Art that's more than just looking at. There's feeling and experience and touch in this walk-through escape.

Crystal Mountain by Dennis Oppenheim - photo by Anna Palmer

Crystal Mountain interior
Photograph by Anna Palmer

A comedic appreciation for some giant, cold bluish thing that appears to be growing like crystal among the waiting room chairs at an airport, and a comfort level that lets nearby passengers all but ignore the giant, strangely pointed structure only a few feet away..

Where Super persons go to unlax, de-tensify, then fly off to save another day. Unlike the other floor and wall pieces, this is strictly unexpected a visual occurrence. A sudden and wild, angular extrapolation and exploration — a small closed-in space in the airy wide empty rectilinear airport.


winged columns

Some of Terminal D's interior columns are wings

What pays for all this is a 2% For The Arts program applicable to all new public buildings in Tarrant County, Bill Campbell told me at his of the twin Fort Worth openings June 25. The D in DFW is is not entirely missing, of course, 12 (52%) of the 23 artists in the program are from here. Of 31 artists involved, 23 (74%) list Dallas, Arlington or Fort Worth as home.

But there were no Dallas openings, except at The Nasher, whose add-on show in front of the hotel component in Terminal D seems, at best, a too-little, too-late, me-too operation with little competition to DFW's acres of local art, though nobody really minds them there, and Ray was on the selection committee. It just adds to the variety and scope of the art at the airport.

DFW Terminals

According to the official brochure of the DFW International Airport Art Program, from whence came most of the artists’ quotes on this page, the selection process involved distribution of “over 300 Art Program Requests for Proposals;” 140 artists submitted qualifications; the Airport Art Advisory Committee (AAAC) reviewed those; selected 24 Artists; assigned Artists to commissions; then reviewed the art.

The AAAC includes Ricardo Medrano, nominated by the committee chair; Kevin Cox designated by DFW CEO Jeffrey Fegan; Randy  Gideon, representing Fort Worth and Tarrant County; Dolores Barzune, representing the Dallas Cultural Affairs Commission; “Metroplex Art Professionals” Harry Robinson, Mark Thistlewaite and Charles Wylie; Isaac Manning, “Community-At-Large from Fort Worth nominated by the Mayor;” and Raymond Nasher, “Community-At-Large from Dallas nominated by the Mayor.”


Bolts tensioning together pieces of the exterior architectural sails


That’s a selection committee for this major public arts program comprising 8 men and 1 woman, although DFW seems proud that 28% of the project’s “dollars for artwork commissioned” were proposed to go to Minorities/Women Business Enterprise, (a qualifying listing — individuals must register and qualify [or appear to] — that supposedly provides minorities and women equal opportunity in contracting and purchasing programs. In reality it's another field of cultural land mines.); 38% to local artists; and 71% of the “Art Opportunities” to “local artists.”

Only 1 of the 12 major commissions — large sculptures and installations — is by a woman (Anitra Blayton's, discussed below), although 9 (47%) of the 19 artists involved with the Skylink Terazzos and gate area floor medallions and 10 (32%) of the total number of artists in the program are women.



Standing Ovation - Anitra Blayton
mixed media of cast bronze, acrylic and terra cotta
16 x 4 feet

What looks like a giant flower from a distance, reveals itself closer as hundreds of human-sized hands, older persons' on the lower branches, younger as the organic shapes rise to the red flowering youth above. Each pair was molded from a different human individual's hands. Older people on the lower rungs, adults in the middle, rising to kid hands at the red top.

All captured in the motions of ovation, which my dictionary defines as “1. Enthusiastic, prolonged applause or  2. A show of public homage or welcome,” thus the many constituent gestures and signs, though most hand pairs are caught in the act of clapping applause.


We and everyone around us felt compelled to touch the rubbery hands, fit our hands in theirs.

It was the first piece we came into contact with in the terminal, and it seemed entirely appropriate to be reaching out and holding people we'll probably never know's hands. Great visual and conceptual gesture for an international terminal welcoming the peoples of the world, except that most of them will enter from airplanes on the other side.

With so many beautiful objects and reflections and architectural details, finding art that was actually open to the public was like finding golden needles in silver haystacks.


2% is not much, and I several times found myself standing somewhere, then looking down, being surprised at what I was standing on. I wonder how many people will blithely walk over, even the big 30 wide by 180-feet long Terrazzos at the Skylink stations along the top.

Whether even 2% of the people who walk on these giant artworks will recognize them as art, or see the colors and designs as coherent. I hadn't noticed the rivers and lakes below the airplane silhouettes in Benito Huerta's airplane design in Station D, but I warmed to it immediately, and seeing the room alive with people made it even more appealing.


Even what wasn't really art
often looked like art.

How many travelers, do you suppose, will get the joke walking over that one (the only of the big pieces we saw at the mostly closed “opening.”) or Brad Goldberg's Over The High Plains of Texas, which I had especially looked forward to seeing  (See other page for artist's drawings) show topographical designs below visible (Huerta) or invisible (Goldberg) airplanes, as if the traveler were flying over the earth.

I like imagining holding my arms out bent back like jet wings, zooming over those real and imagined landscapes. What fun!


New York artist Peter Halley - 17 x 42 feet

8 cells representing “an abstract urban landscape depicted with intense hues and contrasting textures which creates a three-dimensional effect."

The art is varied but only within types. Of six large wall pieces, only one of which was in evidence at the opening, four are geometric— three by New York artists — two 8.5 to 23 by 100 foot works by Sol Lewitt and Peter Halley's piece above.

Then there's an 8 x 30 foot paint on metal panel Meeter/Greeter Hall Wall piece I'm excited about seeing. It is a wide, vertical spectrum of colors by Fort Worth artist John Holt Smith. These vertical or horizontal spectra paintings seem very trendy this year.

A photographic installation by Dusseldorf, Germany artist Beat Streuli will “form a kind of welcoming committee for the arriving passengers waiting to go through immigration.” The only other representational wall work will be a 14 x 42 foot acrylic landscape of Big Bend National Park's Boquillas Canyon by Fort Worth artist Dennis Blagg.

For an international terminal, however, darned little of the art is actually international, except in its tile, stone and terrazzo fabrication and installation.

More about that in a minute, but first, more sculpture — the art form that truly stands out in our airport’s new terminal.

Circling - Christopher Janney
mixed media, terrazzo and glass
in the South Concessions Area Village
32 feet in diameter, when finished

Fabricated and delivered but not installed: This is the one sculpture (I've seen essentially similar Tom Orrs before, or his would likely have been my most anticipated work.) I was most excited to see and participate in. Alas — neither was open at the opening.

Circling will be “a soothing quiet, contemplative game” involving translucent panels and labyrinths, especially their “calming meditation effect.” Janney calls it “a 21st Century labyrinthine-like environment, a game” which will “allow a person to step out of the airport environment” whose concentric elements will “appear more as a maze."


Six large sculptural installations intrude into the airport's expansive interior air space. We've discussed New Yorker Dennis Oppenheim's Crystal Mountain, which is a hoot, interesting, and beautiful to boot; Fort Worth artist Anitra Blayton's very human Standing Ovation; Lexington, Massachusetts artist Chistopher Janney's meditative Circling, and David Driskell and Jerome Meadows' wings on strings are about to be.

The pair of Orrs are placed into open staircases, floating above a landing, so it will be interesting whether the sensory disorientation Tom’s work often generates will clumsify hurrying passengers enough to send them reeling — assuming they exit their own little rush-rush worlds long enough to perceive it.

It is (or will be) five or six feet above the floor, so perhaps the retinal disorientation will not be as severe as his full-surround walk-through pieces. I love that amazing, throbbing sensation as my eyes tell lies to my brain, but I can usually close my eyes to get away. Travelers may not have or take the time to think it through.

Certainly, if any art truly activates its space, this pair will do it, in spades. I wish I could provide a photo, but I haven't even seen them. Yet. Although Tom showed a model at his and wife Frances Bagley's own space's opening earlier this year, and I photographed similar works there.

Terry Allen - Wish

Terry Allen - Wish
cast bronze - 20 x 12 feet

Santa Fe artist and musician Terry Allen’s work and lyrics tend toward the intellectual. I carefully avoided photographing several guys insisting their wives or girlfriends photograph them pushing and/or pulling the raised leg of this giant bone, as if making a wish. This artwork strikes deep at the clichés living in all of us.

Looking up at it, it seems immense, but in the computer generated illustration in the brochure/catalog, it is lost in the immensity of the very tall entrance area leading into the Ticketing Hall — tiny, almost imperceptible in that bluish aluminum and glass ocean of interior space. Whimsical, it might lead passengers to wishes beyond being reunited with their luggage. We know it as art, because we've seen other super-magnified objects thusly presented. But it's still fun.

One more sculptural installation and its inherent visual transition into 2-D space, then we'll get down with the floor medallions.


Maryland artist David Driskell and Georgia artist
Jerome Meadows (detail) - 100 feet long

I called this the Stringy Thingy, and Anna called them (There's two, and they go on and on.) Wingy Thingys. Anna was right, it is described as “a collection of abstracted wings of flight forms suspended from the ceiling of the Hotel Atrium corridor.”

This is a particularly delicious detail in a largely undistinguished string of dangling things, although I love the concept — wings, airport, you get the picture... Trouble is they're 14 feet above the floor along a narrow hallway space and cannot be viewed from the side, as designed.

Again, it’s something whose appreciation grows slowly in me. I like also that the floor piece below is remarkably similar. At first, I thought the Driskell-Meadows piece above might be one of those long, involved hanging dragons, but now I'm considering whether it might instead be a flower, maybe even a Bluebonnet. Despite the dimensional distinctions between these two pieces, their visual similarities are remarkable.

We didn't realize till we were talking over margaritas at Joe T's with friends who'd quickly visited the opening, that each floor of the multi-tiered new parking garage had its own emblematic flowering plant. This purported to be a Bluebonnet.


An even dozen “gate area floor medallions” are uniformly 20 feet diameter circles placed at the centers of gates along the terminal's main concourse, and they are as varied as the artists who designed them, all of whom are from either Dallas or Fort Worth.

Again, only a few of the medallions were accessible during the so-called opening — possibly more a security and financial issue than a construction debacle — the airport didn't want the expense of protecting those other areas. But we visited extensively with those we could get to, spending long minutes hovering above them and stitching their designs together in our minds, admiring their colors, wondering what kind of birds and plants those were, and how the original designs came to be rendered thus.

We were happy to be in their proximity, but we wanted to see more.

We also enjoyed Benito Huerta's richly colored (at least now, before the brilliant Texas sun has its way with it for a couple of decades) landscape from above, whose computer projections in the brochure just don't do it justice.

But first the mosaic and stone circles:


Cypress Trees - Arthello Beck

Those are Anna's feet above, to show scale and purpose. There's gotta be something weird about creating art that is supposed to be walked on, although while I was here, no one walked on this one, except when I asked Anna to be my foot model.


Untitled - Ted Kincaid

The deep colors of these concentric, sphere-like circles are impressive. Again, I noticed that in this and other photos I shot of Kincaid's piece, no one dared to stand in the center. These people, at least, are very aware of the design, if only subconsciously.

I'm sure that attitude will change when people are fleeing through here as if their lives depended upon them getting to their next flight on time.

Ted Kincaid says, “... The orbs. clusters and patterns reference clouds, UFOs — fakes and authentic — paranormal images and subvisual microphotography..."

Billy Hassell wing

Billy Hassell - Early Morning Flight (wing detail)

Billy Hassell has work at the airport already. Sometime in the last century I attended a very private opening in one of the very private clubs out there, where his and other area artists' work are. Glorious to see his big bird (I especially liked the wing. From a distance great enough to show the whole thing, it all flattens so it's difficult to discern what it is, why I chose my favorite part, although I also really like all the organic plant shapes around the edges), too.

Interesting how it works that by walking over something this big, looking down, and engaging our minds, our intellects pull all the disparate pieces together into a happy whole, but my camera and I, lacking a wide-enough angle lens or tallth, cannot.

Celebration - Beatrice Lebreton

Anna and I both liked this circle terrazzo for its color, whimsical and exotic — even magical — symbols. It was my favorite in the brochure that shows all the airport art, and I continued to like its colors — especially the vivid hues in its abstracted backgrounds — and shapes in its flat, underfoot reality.


According to the guides (members of the nonprofit Airport Ambassadors) stationed at points of interest during the Saturday opening, the floor medallions each cost $100,000 for fabrication and relocation from Germany, where the artist's original designs were reproduced in reverse, water-soluble glue attached to a matrix, flipped into position, scooted into position, then set, so they would be installed right side up.

That amount is likely about double what the Germans — Munich's Franz Meyer, considered the world's best — actually charged. Other international firms and one local also fabricated pieces. Meyer did seven of the 12 medallions.

Detailed installation photographs by DallasArtsRevue Supporting Member Julie Richey (her DARts Member Page) show step by steps of the various installation processes, including the painterly Judy Hearst design she fabricated, and are on her dot Mac web page, Field Trip (Click pix for enlarged view or click through the slide show.).

The primary international participation in the art for this international terminal was its fabrication and installation. Only one of the artists is from out of the country.


Nancy Lamb - Maquette for Get There On Time
(nearly life sized detail) at William Campbell Contemporary

This inches-tall maquette we saw at the Campbell was tiny, especially compared with the 30 x 180 foot long floor inlay it is about to become (may already have — we didn't see it), but we did get to see Benito Huerta's and we are looking forward to enjoying the seven other Skylink floors.

Perhaps we should mention that Skylink is the latest airport, “high-speed airport train” that takes passengers to Terminals A, B, C, E and now D. We saw the trains whizzing by above us from downstairs and rattling by upstairs, but Anna said none of them had any passengers, so maybe it was all just for opening day show, although the train has been running for at least a month now.

Benito Huerta's untitled airplane silhouettes with landscape and light.

Activating the space has, as a term, brought us great mirth over the years. But comparing the very small initial drawings of these very large installations gives credence to the term. These giant artworks have been activated by both the scale and the massive volume of light in the skyboxed Skylink Stations.

I'd worried that since these installations are so large and so low, it would be difficult to photograph them (See my hassle with Hassell above.) Instead, the light, the people and the reflections give Benito Huerta's beautiful thematic abstract a rich and gorgeous reality, with both bold graphics and subtle details.


The more established, big-time, New York artists made their own contracts, and probably got more money, but the local artists all netted the same, under $10k amount, I'm guessing. What they got, they earned. Dealing with committees and committees of committees (governments), helpful and/or anything-but competing corporations and other art know-nothings and know-not-nearly-enoughs or know-plenty-but-powerless-to-do-anything-about-those-others, over the half decade of this process has to rank among the most stressful endeavors of contemporary art.

Where else can artists have their art seen by literally millions of people — and in such a magnificent salon? And where better to find art when luggage and/or flight interruptions timewarp you into the next dimension; the weather fails; or you are elsewise suddenly endowed with an abundance of hours to kill and nowhere to go?



Anna and me reflected in the downstairs windows, under the sails, with the pitiful, token Nasher outdoor sculpture display tiny in the distance behind us.



Like Yossarian, we saw everything twice, but we didn't see nearly all the art we wanted — or expected — at the very Public, but only supposedly open, Opening Saturday June 25.

By the time we were about to go around a third time, we decided we'd walked and gawked enough for one day, and we hied ourselves to Fort Worth to soak up some margaritas, Mexican food, local culture and, of course, more art.

If you can't make it to the airport — good luck getting in — the designs are on display at William Campbell Contemporary and the Fort Worth Art Center, both in our sister city to the west, through July 30, 2005, along with other works by the same artists to give context. More info on the DallasArtsRevue Calendar until then.

Out, past a slow trudging army of gleaming, empty spinning luggage carousels in the already notorious (implementation date unknown) Baggage Claim Area, into wafting heavy heat of pick-up lanes downstairs, I looked vaguely north and west into this dark-framed, curving panorama of light and dark abstract shapes.


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