Art displays take flight at JWA

"Heisler Park" by Mark Jacobucci
(Courtesy John Wayne Airport)

JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT — The “Flight of Ideas” art installation noiselessly crowds the airspace above the baggage carousels at the new Terminal C here.

This is where the old Terminal B garage stood before construction crews razed it to clear the way for Terminal C — the main piece of John Wayne Airport’s $543-million improvement and renovation program — which opened in mid-November.

In assorted sizes, shapes and colors, the sculpture’s 21 individual pieces together resemble a flock of flying mechanical birds. They seem to float in the air as they dangle from a 100-foot truss suspended from the terminal’s barrel vault ceiling. Their bodies are made of aluminum, and their colorful wings and tail fins are plexiglass cutouts imprinted with sections of actual FAA aeronautical charts.

The sculpture in Terminal C (one of three contiguous terminals housed in the Thomas F. Riley Terminal building) is a milestone for JWA. It is the county-run airport’s first acquisition of a work of art.

For $50,000, the airport commissioned Kansas City, Mo., public space artist Beth Nybeck to create “Flight of Ideas” for the opening of Terminal C. The proposal by Nybeck, whose portfolio includes works commissioned mostly by towns in the Midwest, was selected following a competition that solicited more than 20 proposals from artists nationwide, JWA officials said.

The Nybeck work is one of at least two physical components integrated into plans for the new terminal that represent an expansion of JWA’s 21-year-old art program.

The county Board of Supervisors-appointed Airport Arts Commission worked closely with the architect to ensure that spaces for displaying art were incorporated into the building’s design, said Karin Schnell, the commission’s chair.

“I think it humanizes the whole experience of being in the airport ...,” said Jeffrey Frisch, the airport’s art program coordinator who is an artist in his own right.

“To me, as an artist, [it is] a very important part of the travel experience because it takes it out of just the bus station realm and really puts a high cultural polish to the experience,” he added.


‘O.C.: Destination Art & Culture’

Frisch and Courtney C. Wiercioch, JWA’s deputy director of public affairs, were taking a reporter on a tour of the art spaces in the airport’s non-restricted areas in Terminals A, B and C, which the public can access without a boarding pass.

The tour did not include a visit to the Vi Smith Concourse Gallery, located beyond the security checkpoints and near gates in Terminals A and C. The gallery is now displaying two professionally curated photographic exhibits: a display of photographs by Carolyn Russo that capture aesthetic features and angles of airplanes and other aeronautical relics housed in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum; and an exhibit tracing the Boeing Co.'s history in California.

After seeing “Flight of Ideas,” the next stop was in the carpeted walkway connecting Terminal C to Terminal B.

Eleven wall-mounted cases that line the curving corridor, which is glassed in on one side, comprise the second new piece in the JWA art program. The space was set aside in the airport’s upgrade specifically to promote Orange County as a destination for the arts and culture, JWA officials said.

The 11 cases displayed large, art-quality photographs of ancient Chinese artifacts currently exhibited in the “Warriors, Temples, and Tombs” show at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

The corridor wall is prime space for commercial advertising, but JWA Director Alan L. Murphy lobbied county officials to use it to boost O.C.'s nonprofit cultural arts and institutions, Wiercioch said.

She also noted that, while public construction projects by law sometimes can require that a percentage of taxpayer dollars be spent on incorporating an artistic element into the project, John Wayne Airport did not legally have to meet that requirement in building Terminal C.

Yet JWA officials felt that the aerial gateway to the county should serve as a booster for the O.C. arts and cultural scene.


Art to calm the traveler’s nerves

The two new additions bring to five the number of prongs in JWA’s visual arts program. It started 21 years ago with the opening of the Riley Terminal, and has since expanded and shown more than 80 exhibits, officials said.

The five-member John Wayne Airport Art Commission represents each of Orange County’s supervisorial districts and advises the Board of Supervisors and the airport’s director on developing, financing and running the JWA art program.

One of the commission’s main tasks is to pick artwork for public display that will appeal to people’s aesthetic senses, but be culturally sensitive and not upsetting or cause air travelers to feel anxious before boarding their flights — a policy that underlies JWA’s entire art program.

In other words, people who transit through the airport won’t see any controversial works or pieces that provoke deep thinking or worry, such as Picasso’s “Guernica,” his painting that depicted the German and Italian aerial bombing of Spain’s Basque country during the Spanish Civil War.

“At an airport like this, we recognize that people are not here to view art,” Wiercioch said. “They are not coming to the airport specifically to find something controversial or contemplative — and we know we have young people and older people and men and women and people of all ethnicities, all race[s].”

And, she added, one of the ironic by-products of the post-9/11 air transportation security culture nationwide is that passengers now have more time to loiter in the terminals and take in art because they tend to check in for their flights earlier.


Engaging the community

The program’s third and fourth prongs engage schools in the community and local artists to submit artwork that will be considered for public display in areas of Terminals A and B, where passengers line up to pass through the security checkpoints or as they pick up their bags off the carousels after their plane lands.

In December, JWA announced the winners of its 22nd annual Student Art Contest, which is part of a competition at the county, state and national levels sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Out of more than 1,000 entries, 54 award-winning pieces of student art work, divided into two categories (grades K through 6 and grades 7 through 12), will remain on display in the baggage claim areas of Terminals A and B through Jan. 16.

This year’s Grand Prize for Category I went to Jasmyne Kon, a fifth-grader at Greentree Elementary School in Irvine, who painted an owl floating in outer space against a blue backdrop.

The fourth component is the year-round Community Art Space, in which the commission issues a “call to artists” in Orange County to submit a body of their work for exhibitions in their name, which change out every six weeks or so, JWA officials said.

For example, until Dec. 19, the airport had reserved its Community Art Space to display abstract paintings by Michaell Magrutsche, an Austrian-born artist who lives and works in Newport Beach.

Magrutsche’s exhibit has now been replaced by a very different one showcasing the plein air paintings by Mark Jacobucci, a Laguna Niguel artist who is employed by day as senior director of landscape architecture for the Irvine Co.'s Urban Planning and Design division.

In a phone interview, Magrutsche did not hold back in saying he got “zero response” from the exhibit, but, he added, he appreciated the opportunity that JWA officials gave him to showcase his work.

“I was so happy to have that because it fulfills this need in me to be exposed,” he said. What’s important is that they chose to have my art shown.”

Twitter: @ImranVittachi


The JWA art program has five components, which are listed here along with details of current exhibits:

1. “Flight of Ideas,” an installation of a 21-piece sculpture of birds by artist Beth Nybeck, is located above the baggage carousels in Terminal C. (On display indefinitely.)

2. “ORANGE COUNTY: Destination Art & Culture,a new art exhibit space promoting arts and culture in O.C., is housed in the walkway that joins Terminal C and Terminal B.

The current exhibit, on display through March, is a series of photographs of Chinese artifacts that are part of a Bowers Museum’s show, “Warriors, Tombs and Temples: China’s Enduring Legacy.”

3. Annual Student Art Contest: Award-winning art work by Orange County students enrolled in K-12 schools will be mounted on the west wall in Terminals A and B Baggage Claim areas through Jan. 16. The contest is sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration.

4. Community Focus Space: Exhibit of plein air paintings by Mark Jacobucci will run through Jan. 30. The general public can access the free-standing cases displaying the artist’s work near security checkpoints on the departure level and near baggage carousels in Terminals A and B.

5. Vi Smith Concourse Gallery (passengers only; access restricted to gates beyond security checkpoints)

(a) “In Plane View is an exhibit of photographs by Carolyn Russo depicting elements of aircraft design showcased exhibits at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. On display in the Vi Smith Concourse Gallery in Terminal C. (Through March).

(b) “Enduring Innovation: Boeing in California,” an exhibition of photographs tracing the aviation giant’s history and future in the state. Located in Vi Smith Concourse Gallery in Terminal A. (Through March.)