Monday, January 05, 2009

A Saving Grace

Travel by air is a special kind of hell, but if I hadn’t flow through Philadelphia, and been stuck there overnight, I would have missed the three exhibitions in the F Terminal. Most airport art comes in two flavors: the oversize posters and scenic photographs that line the concourses and moving walkways, or the big public art projects, frequently mobiles, that are pleasant to look at but are not challenging art. Philadelphia does it differently.

My attention was caught first by the color and patterning in Andrea Packard’s fabric and paper collages of wooded landscapes. Somehow their complexities reminded me of David Driskell’s work, though the palette was entirely different. I was deep into these for a while before I realized that nearby, a group of paintings by Jackie Tileston created an equally magnetic space. Here, calligraphy and images borrowed from Chinese and Hindu sources combined with other elements to make dream-like spaces. The piece de resistance, one which tied Tileston’s work to Packard’s, was a lone three-dimensional tuft of fabric in an otherwise two-dimensional universe. In the third group of images, Florence Putterman’s black and white linocut narratives provided unintentional though perfectly possible story lines with which one might people the abstracted landscapes of the first two artists.

Each of these women has a substantial resume and a clear commitment to making art that matters. Andrea Packard teaches and is Director of the List Gallery at Swarthmore. Jackie Tileston has been awarded a Guggenheim and a Bellagio residency, and teaches at U Penn. Florence Putterman has received an NEA Grant, and has a long list of museum collections to her credit.

The Exhibitions Committee at the airport publishes a brochure detailing locations and projects throughout the airport’s terminals and I’m sorry I didn’t have the time and energy to get around to all of them. More airports around the country should think about offering stranded passengers the saving grace of serious art.

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