LAX unveils new art exhibitions after COVID-19 delay

By Bridgette M. Redman

Four new art exhibitions at Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX) Terminal 1 will take passengers on a journey through a variety of artistic disciplines, including photography, sculpture, painting, contemporary craft and two site-specific murals.

Travelers passing through Terminal 1 of LAX are treated to four new art exhibitions, ranging from site-specific craft and murals to photography, sculptures and paintings. They include “LA Made,” “Korçare,” “In Search of Rainbows and Stardust” and “Window Seat.”

Installed at the end of 2020, they were the first new art installations of the year, many that had been planned for the beginning of the year but had to be postponed because of the pandemic.

“LAX is dedicated to spotlighting the vibrant art community of Los Angeles, and we are excited to welcome our first new major installations since the spring,” said Justin Erbacci, chief executive officer, LAWA. “Even during the most challenging times, art can inspire our minds and open our hearts. These four new exhibits at Terminal 1 showcase the great talent of our fellow Angelenos, dazzle our senses and help our imaginations take flight.”

Capturing craft with ‘LA Made’

Two curators from Craft in America, Emily Zaiden and Alex Miller, put together a group project that features craft in contemporary art. It includes artists whose work is renowned in the world of contemporary craft such as Tanya Aguiñiga, Carrie Burckle, Ferne Jacobs, John Luebtow, Gerardo Monterrubio, Po Shun Leong, Karyl Sisson and Joan Takayama-Ogawa.

The first installment, which includes ceramic, glass, fiber, metal and wood, will be on display at Terminal 1, Gate 9 in the Departures Level until October 2021. The second installment is in the new terminal 1.5, which was scheduled for installment in mid-January.

“We are excited to be given the chance to expand on what we did with the first show,” Zaiden said. “It was really thrilling to hear the response from the Department of Cultural Affairs and the LAX team. They were very pleased to see three-dimensional objects that had such technical complexity and nuances that also had conceptual groundings in terms of each piece. It is only eight objects, but it encapsulates a lot. It shows the breadth and strength of the kind of work coming from artists in the LA region.”

For both shows, there is an emphasis on materials and the way that artists manipulate them, whether traditional or otherwise.

“All of the objects in both shows are heavily about artists who think a lot about their materials and are really gifted in manipulating their material,” Zaiden said. “Artists from a variety of backgrounds in terms of experience, identity, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomics.”

Sarah Cifarelli, LAX art program director, said they were excited to work with Craft in America, a local nonprofit that promotes craft. She felt what they did, and especially the use of materials, gives passengers a snapshot into what is happening in contemporary craft today in LA. She talked about how unexpected some of the materials are.

“One is made with clothespins,” Cifarelli said. “It has texture and interesting form to it so that you don’t initially realize that she’s using these clothespins. She’s taken an everyday household object and elevated it to sculptural form. It will catch your eye and when looking a second longer, you might notice something surprising, a moment of discovery.”

In the second case, materials include ceramics, paper and fiber. Most of them depict a sense or a landscape from LA. The art objects tend to be abstract and conceptual.

Zaiden is pleased that the exhibit has received such a prominent positioning in the terminal as she said it really showcases craft as a vital part of the LA arts scene. She hopes it will broaden people’s ideas of what art in LA is.

“There is a shift happening in the art world more recently,” Zaiden said. “People for a long time have dismissed technical skills and that hasn’t been at the forefront of what has been emphasized in the art world, it is much more pure concept-based. These (exhibits) are the opposite. They embrace the physical tactile nature of the materials. There is a fundamentally optimistic message that beauty still persists, that we still want to see beautiful objects and are still astounded by the abilities humans have to make beautiful objects, to take these simple objects, whether a lump of clay or a pile of thread, and make it into this beautiful stunning, abstract object that gives you an emotion and feeling and connection. It really is a powerful thing. It goes beyond words. We need it more than ever right now. I think that is fundamentally the beauty of craft.”

Inspired by Albanian woven rugs

Also in Terminal 1 is a large site-specific, multimedia installation of a mural created by Alexis Zoto. It is a combination of hand-painted and vinyl shapes and symbols in a vibrant color palette. It will be on display until October.

The mural is the result of research that Zoto did into kilms, which are handwoven rugs made in Albania. She traveled to the country where she interviewed weavers and was the first foreigner to be allowed into the National Archive to look at the collection of kilms.

“A lot of that experience, talking to these amazing women, inspired the design of this piece,” Zoto said. “I also really wanted to bring the idea of craft into a really contemporary context by changing the materials, scale and color palette to really make people interested and think about it in a different way.”

As people take in her work, Zoto has found that they interpret it based on their own background. People from LA assume it is from the Americas, perhaps Mexico, the Navajos or the Guatemalans. When she exhibited in Europe, they thought the designs were Turkish.

“No one was right, but people would recognize it,” Zoto said. “That is an opportunity to have this conversation about work made by women for millennia. There are these symbols that are recognized across all these different cultures. Some of that meaning is getting lost in society. This is an opportunity to have a conversation about it.”

When she began to design the mural, it was with the airport in mind. She chose colors that would make an impact but not annoy people, and motifs that were reminiscent of what people had seen in other cultures. Some of the things she chose specifically were meant to invoke air travel.

“I wanted it to be cool, something people would want to take a selfie in front of,” Zoto said. “I wanted it to have lots of different colors and be really playful. LA is very colorful and has so many amazing cultures within the city, so I was really trying to think of all that.”

Zoto, who did the research in Albania because that is where her grandmother is from, said she loves the diversity of LA and its dynamic and rich culture. It is why she likes to do art for LAX.

“I want to do work for people who may never spend time in a gallery or go to a museum,” Zoto said. “What a gift it is to be able to communicate and talk about culture, travel and diversity. That is a joyful thing. (The mural) speaks to so many people who have no interest in art, but this might make them see it differently.”

Cifarelli was fascinated by the way she translated the study of textiles and the flat rugs of Albania into a mural that uses very different materials than one would normally use for a rug or a mural.

“I think it is so interesting,” Cifarelli said. “She made that specifically for LAX, specifically for that wall. You can only see that handiwork at LAX. That is a special gift we can share with our passengers.”

Search into LA’s architectural past

Anna Carey is the artist who created the “In Search of Rainbows and Stardust” exhibition. They feature her photographs and a video depicting imaginary interior and exterior architectural spaces that present a generic global architectural style that feels both familiar and dream-like.

Carey grew up on the Australian Gold Coast, which was a popular holiday destination. When she later resettled in LA, she saw many of the original buildings whose style had influenced the architecture of her home region.

She combines all those things in her airport exhibit, using model-making, photography and film. The “Stardust” series is based on the exteriors of Stardust motels from all over the world. The photographs magnify her handmade models.

In the series, there are photographs and videos of interior spaces with rooms based on a dominant color of the rainbow spectrum. These rainbow-hued images explore the connection between place, memory and color.

Cifarelli, in talking about all the exhibits at LAX, said they were pleasantly surprised at how bright, colorful and welcoming they all felt in this time of COVID-19.

“The art is still here to welcome you and is a reflection of LA, the creativity and the amazing communities we have here,” Cifarelli said. “It felt really wonderful to be able to share this with the traveling public. These were the right exhibitions for this time in terms of how beautifully welcoming they are.”

Exhibit captures the view of urban landscapes from flight

Artist Susan Logoreci has done a number of public art commissions in the past. Her exhibit in Terminal 1 is “Window Seat.”

The art consists of drawings of contemporary urban landscapes, views imagined as being seen from the window seat of a plane. It creates a site-specific mural that gives two different views — one from up close, the other from a distance.

Up close, viewers can see a unique series of paintings of recognizable views from throughout LA such as the Hollywood sign or the intersections of highways. From a distance, there is a grid designed to be a contrasting view that is planned and stable, while also being fragile and disordered.

“I want to give viewers a new perspective on the city as a large, ongoing project that is built by many and shared by all,” Logoreci said.

Exhibits offer art to travelers

Cifarelli said she wants people to know that there is art for them at the airport to enjoy, especially at this time when most museums and art galleries are closed because of the pandemic.

“We have a really vibrant contemporary art program,” Cifarelli said. “We show it to communicate our values as a city. We are a city that really values creativity and expression.”

She encouraged people to come early to the airport when they have a flight. Once they are through TSA, they can enjoy the artwork. Also, for those coming to pick up a passenger, there are exhibitions in some of the baggage claim areas.

“I think it has been a bright spot for a lot of people,” Cifarelli said. “I would say for passengers as well as for the LAX employees. Art is one of those things that connect us as people. It reminds us we are all in this together and we can still have moments of beauty and creativity and humor. Art provides a bright spot, something else to consider, to think about and to enjoy when there are some days that it might feel really bleak.”