Art for Weary Travellers in Airports

Museum-quality art exhibitions in airports can soothe weary travellers, allowing an escape from laptops and mobile phones. The key is to find a balance between the display of fragile artworks and their conservation.

Picture of Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

Nearly one billion visitors passed through the ten busiest airports in the world in 2018, suffering no doubt the stress of getting through airport security, long queues, jet lag and screaming bored kids. I am sure we have all been there.

Some passengers look for retail therapy, or the calm of an airport lounge or maybe a fine meal. Others end up staring soullessly at laptop screens or mobile phones for hours on end.

So, what better place than an airport to exhibit museum-quality art to refresh the spirit, educate your kids, stretch your legs and rest your eyes?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Well firstly, airports are famous for having abundant daylighting and are normally tuned to the climatic needs of humans, not art.

Rare, fragile or valuable collections on display in airports would need protection from the obvious risk of theft and accidents, but also from the gradual damage due to light exposure, temperature, humidity, pollution and vibration present in any busy international airport.

The Benefit of Art in Airports

There are clearly tangible benefits of interleaving art with public, private and retail spaces in airports.

These include humanising the otherwise-concrete airport experience and offering in-transit passengers the chance to explore a city’s cultural offerings while remaining inside the terminal.

Passengers could obtain a 15 minute ‘digital detox’ just by putting down their laptops and mobile phones and exploring a nearby art exhibition, without the risk of missing their flight.

Retailers could benefit from increased customer dwell times if the art is skillfully co-curated with the retail products on offer, perhaps even explaining the culture or rich corporate history of the brand.

If you want to explore this area, no better recommendation than the folks over at the Curatorial Research Centre. Now, they know how to tell a story.

And airport lounges that exhibit art in an innovative way could give reason for customers to linger a little longer and converse informally with staff about the collection, improving their overall airport experience.

Finally, our screaming, bored kids could be entertained (albeit momentarily) by interaction with collections that are both fun and educational. I am thinking dinosaurs. Were you thinking dinosaurs?

Is This Something New?

Not at all. 

We have found several airports who have incorporated art into their facilities over the years, including some big names:-

  • An exhibition of illustrations and quotes from Irish poets at Dublin airport.
  • The Espace Musées at Paris Charles de Gaulle, which hosts rotating art exhibits provided by local museums.
  • The Terminal 5 Gallery at Heathrow Airport, which is the only permanent commercial fine art gallery in the world to be situated in an airport.
  • The Rijksmuseum at Schiphol Airport, which became the first art museum in the world in 2002 to exhibit original 17th-century art, right inside the airport. This features a 167 square metre S-shaped exhibition space designed by NEXT architects.
  • The Denver International Airport art programme, which features sculptures, murals and installation art both outdoor as well as inside the terminal concourse, and even in the train tunnels.
  • Seoul Incheon International Airport features Korean Traditional Cultural Centres with exhibits, performances and interactive experiences for transit travellers.

An Innovative Balance

What would be truly innovative is to strike a balance between displaying and protecting collections in an airport, so even museum-quality works could be displayed without risking their deterioration. 

But how could we achieve this?

Enter the secret sauce: combining art with cutting-edge smart glass technology that allows us to control exactly how much light enters a display case, based on the items inside and only when someone is present to view the collection.

This would allow airports, airport lounges and airport retailers to differentiate their offering, to deepen customer relationships through culture-based storytelling and to enrich the overall user experience.

After all, everyone loves a story.!

Call For Partners

ArtRatio is now actively seeking partners in the airport sector who are looking to co-curate museum-quality art within public premises or alongside retail products.

If you are an airport retailer, airport lounge or an airport authority, contact us today to start a conversation.

Who knows? We might all put down our laptops and mobile phones and start to engage more meaningfully with the art world, broadening our cultural horizons.


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