Is SFO an Airport or an Art Museum?

Scott Lucas | January 13, 2014 | Story Galleries and Performance

When the new boarding area at Terminal 3 opens at the end of January, it won't just be the flights that are arriving. It will be a small but potent collection of works from some major names in the Bay Area art world. We got a special sneak peak of the exhibition. Check out the slideshow above for what we found, plus the low down on the art below.

Title: Masquerade in Black (1974-75)
Artist: Jay DeFeo
The Deal: This painting—which was part of the SFMOMA retrospective in 2012—by one of the central figures of San Francisco’s Beat Generation has been owned for years by SFO, but never given this kind of treatment. The black and white loops were previously housed behind a thick layer of Plexiglas, creating glare that obscured the art. The airport even thought about de-accessioning it (that’s art world speak for selling), but the new placement, with specially-designed thin housing, restores the painting to its rightful power.

Title: Sky (2014)
Artist: Merge Conceptual Design
The Deal: This hanging set of sculptures looks down on the gates at the end of the terminal and pulses with lights colored to mimic the tones of the sky. It’s not impossible to imagine travelers sitting and losing themselves while staring into the shifting panorama, which is produced by LED edge lighting and controlled by a computer program. The artists at Merge, Franka Diehnelt and Claudia Reisenberger, wanted to evoke a sense of infinity—which hopefully will be the kind experience by staring at the sky, not the one felt when the plane is delayed for a third time.

Title: Spirogyrate (2014)
Artist: Eric Staller
The Deal: A kinetic light sculpture that invokes a whiff of Haight-Ashbury, this work is designed to be both a piece of art and a children’s play area. Several six-foot lighted circles set into the floor and wall rotate and change color. As kids (or adults) walk over the glass, motion sensors change the color of the lights. The cool factor is off the charts.

Title: 18th Street Downgrade (1978)
Artist: Wayne Thiebaud
The Deal: This oil painting isn’t of a piece of pie or a row of gumball machines, but one of the San Francisco cityscapes that Thiebaud painted in the late 70s. The colors and steep angles are reminiscent of the more abstracted works of Richard Diebenkorn.

Title: Behind Ted McCann’s Garage (1976)
Artist: James Torlakson
The Deal: Longtime local artist Torlakson was first discovered at age six when he was named a Junior Art Champion by the Chronicle and won two dollars in prize money. He’s done pretty well for himself since then too, working mainly in the photorealist style exemplified by this work.

Title: San Francisco Nova (1979)
Artist: Robert Bechtle
The Deal: One of the early photorealists, much of Bechtle’s work focuses on what back in 1969 the New Yorker called “middle-class ordinariness.” Rumor is that if you can correctly guess which cul-de-sac this work represents, you’ll win a free plane ticket.

Title: Angulos en Todas Las Direcciones (1978)
Artist: Carlos Loarca
The Deal: Though these images by the artist have been a long-time component of the airport’s art collection, because of size limitations on the walls, they were previously displayed side-by-side, rather than one of top of the other as the artist intended. Now they are arrayed as they were supposed to be. Notch another victory for the high ceilings in the new boarding area.

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