When Delta Air Lines’ Terminal C at La Guardia Airport opens to the public on Saturday, New York will not only get a gleaming new transportation hub, but also a major arts destination.
“Airports are gateways to a region — travelers need to know where they are,” said Rick Cotton, the executive director of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which operates La Guardia. “Public art is at the heart of that aspect of building a new bourgeois structure.”
Large-scale permanent installations by Mariam Ghani, Rashid Johnson, Aliza Nisenbaum, Virginia Overton, Ronny Quevedo and Fred Wilson — all artists living and working in New York — are about to become new city landmarks in the terminal.
The new works, commissioned by Delta Air Lines in conjunction with the neighboring Queens Museum and part of a $12 million art program in Terminal C, join a constellation of other projects in La Guardia.
As the largest airline in New York, employing 10,000 people in the prepandemic area (and now over 9,000 again), Delta wanted the artwork in its terminal “to be New York-centric and reflect the diversity of our business,” it said. Ryan. Marzullo, a director at the company overseeing the $4 billion Terminal C project, is now 80 percent complete.
For each of the six artists chosen by the Delta team from among dozens originally presented by the Queens Museum, it was an opportunity to increase their practices of scale and experimentation, according to the president and executive director of the museum, Sally Tallant. “All of these works are very rooted in what it means to live in New York,” she said.
Known for her sculptures made from recycled materials that respond directly to architectural spaces, Virginia Overton has installed a dozen large and glowing gems made from New York City skylights that dangle at various heights through a three-story atrium in the arrival and departure hall.
“I wanted to make something that was quintessentially New York,” she said. Overton, who grew up in Nashville, recalls her father’s stories of flying low over New York on business trips and looking down at buildings with dramatic skylights. Today, she often sits in her Brooklyn studio, staring at the skylights. “When you’re in a building, you look up there and go from the ground to the sky, which felt like the right gesture for the airport,” she said.
Each of her 12 sculptures features large panes of old-fashioned safety glass set in geometrically faceted metal fixtures, up to ten feet long, that Overton dragged from salvage stores and sometimes from the trash. She then replicated the mirror half of each skylight to create jewel-like shapes that are lit from within. These sandy and magical beacons float sideways and come into view as you get closer. “Hopefully it will appeal to people who have just flown in to New York and recognize the skylights of some of the buildings around here,” Overton said, “and encourage people to look up and down.”
Rashid Johnson is widely recognized for his multidisciplinary work that raises the collective concerns of our time. In his mosaic “‘The Travelers’ Broken Crowd,” 60 excited faces loom in rows across a 45-by-15-foot space on a wall visible from three levels of the arrivals and departures halls.
“Travel is such an interesting and complicated and beautiful and frustrating event, whether you think it’s self-improvement or the substantial refugee crisis right now,” Johnson said. “These characters I call ‘Broken Men’ witness the travelers and are seen by the travelers. It feels a bit like all of us.”
Within the repetition of his simplified geometric faces reduced to large eyes and clenched mouths and Composed largely of black and white ceramic fragments, Johnson has achieved glorious variety through passages of brightly colored tiles, hand-painted gestures in oil stick, black soap and wax, clusters of oyster shells and bits of mirror struck with a hammer.
“The scale’s gymnastics definitely forced me to challenge myself physically as far as my work interactions,” said Johnson, who moved here from Chicago and lives in Manhattan and Bridgehampton, NY. “I loved the idea that it’s a permanent installation too, something that you can use as a marker for where you are.”
For a decade, Ronny Quevedo has redecorated the gym floor to explore meeting and sports venues, which he says are especially important to immigrant communities. For the first time, the artist has fabricated a full-size wooden gym floor from scratch, now mounted on a wall of Delta’s arrivals and departures halls. The brightly colored game lines are fragmented and rearranged into a dynamic abstract composition.
“This urban environment we live in is always moving in new directions,” said Quevedo, who grew up in the Bronx and accompanied his father, who played professional soccer in Ecuador, to the games he refereed every weekend at schools and parks across the country. city. † For the artist, the gymnasium floor is an opportunity “to represent the multiple intersections and communities and different experiences you can get in New York,” he said, “and the role of play in developing your own identity.”
Within his redesigned floor diagram on Delta’s wall piece, Quevedo superimposed constellations in layers of gold leaf and silver. “It’s a way of linking that movement of migration to that movement of the cosmos,” he said. “This sense of struggle and resilience is not just focused on victimization, but also on rethinking yourself.”
With her first tile mosaic, mounted in the baggage claim area of Terminal C, multimedia artist Mariam Ghani has created a portrait of New York based on a data visualization of the more than 700 languages and dialects spoken in the area.
“The Worlds We Speak” presents six planetary clusters that replace the five boroughs plus the tristate area. These spheres contain a large number of smaller circles in a spectrum of vibrant colors, each representing a language community and inscribed with that language’s name in its own script.
“New York is the most linguist city in the world, and each language is a whole way to see the world,” said Ghani, an Afghan American born in New York. She used data collected from the latest census and the Endangered Language Alliance. “The airport is a point where all this traffic goes through and that brings us all this wealth of knowledge,” she said.
For Ghani, the most challenging part of the project was spelling each of the languages correctly. “It was the most extensive copy operation imaginable,” Ghani said, hoping people will enjoy finding their native language while waiting for their luggage to arrive. “Ceramics are permanent. You can’t go back and fix it later.”
The artist Fred Wilson often reframes cultural objects and mines layers of meaning in the color black. For his La Guardia piece entitled ‘Mother’, he has combined black ocean star globes with his signature black teardrop-shaped sculptures. Supply chain issues slowed production, so later this summer, 12 globes ranging from 18 inches to 11 feet in diameter will be suspended in a three-story Arrivals and Departures atrium amid a cascade of 24 giant black drops of up to six feet long.
Wilson, a lifelong New Yorker, first saw this piece on an overnight flight. “It was utter black and it occurred to me as I looked down at how fragile our world is,” said Wilson, whose raindrops over the spheres could be read as atmospheric or extractions of oil or tar from the earth, or tears. “Certainly, the ecology and survival of the planet come out in this piece,” he added, an aspect new to his work.
All globes will be suspended on different axes so that they can be viewed from different perspectives, with each of the landmasses being a different color with no countries or borders. It is the first time that the artist has painted his work by hand.
“My mother was a painter and maybe that’s why I stayed away from it,” he said. “But I really enjoyed working on it.”
In her installation for Delta, the painter Aliza Nisenbaum has commemorated a cross-section of Terminal C’s labor force in a monumental group portrait.
“I was interested in what it takes to run an airport and to talk to the real people who are the first faces people meet when they arrive,” said Nisenbaum, who grew up in Mexico City and is now based. in Queens. From a large pool of Delta and Port Authority employees she interviewed, the artist selected 16 whose stories of servitude inspired her, including a security guard, a taxi driver, a janitor, pilots and flight attendants.
She painted each of a combination of Zoom interviews and photographs and weaved the individuals into a composite. Her painting is translated into a mosaic, her first.
A vinyl reproduction of the finished painting now hangs in Hall F until her future mosaic can be installed in a hall yet to be built.
It’s the only artwork in Delta’s terminal behind a security checkpoint, and Marzullo, who oversees construction, thinks it’s appropriate. “Aliza’s piece isn’t just for our customers, it’s for all the employees needed to run this small town,” he said. “It just so happens that everyone who works there can be reminded of their importance.”