Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Art for travelers: From traditional to whimsical

Whimsical art / This guardian dog is among
 the most 
popular Japanese folk toys.

OK, I'll admit it. Over the last decade, post 9/11, flying has lost a lot of its glamor and lustre for me. It's a tiring exercise to jet from one city to another no matter the season of the year. First, there's dealing with long queue lines to check bags and clear security. Then, there's more queue lines when it's time to actually board the airplane. These days, there's nary an empty seat to be found on most flights let alone a free snack.

Given the choice, I much prefer flying out of the remodeled Oakland International Airport than from the older and more expansive San Francisco International Airport (SFO). After all, it's closer to my home, and because it's easier to navigate Oakland's terminals, it's a less stressful setting for me. Unfortunately, when it comes to flying to Minneapolis -- which I do yearly -- I'm forced to fly out of SFO.

Last week, my wife and I traveled to Minnesota for the Thanksgiving holiday, which meant flying from SFO. We allowed ourselves ample time to drive across the Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco and reached the airport about 90 minutes before boarding our United Airlines flight to the Twin Cities. With time as our ally, it gave us a chance to see and experience a variety of public art on display at the airport, something we usually don't have time to acknowledge or enjoy. Public art is becoming more commonplace among larger metropolitan airports across the U.S. and internationally, too. And, I'm happy to say that it not only brightened my day, it put me in the right mood for flying across the country.

Fostering an environment that is as entertaining as it is educational, San Francisco International Airport's public art program offers travelers -- and residents who visit SFO -- a chance to see a variety of paintings, sculptures, mosaics and environmental works representing a diversity of styles and full of vibrant colors.

At SFO, there's a permanent aviation museum and library that provide opportunities for learning about the development of commercial aviation and the role it plays in our lives. Also, there are fine arts photography galleries dedicated throughout the airport which enable visitors to understand the critical role of the city of San Francisco in the origins, development and evolution of photography as a fine art and means of expression. Student art exhibits and kids' art spots are also featured and included in various locations within SFO.

Visual arts humanize the airport environment and make it a much friendlier atmosphere. At SFO, the installation of art exhibits takes advantage of many wide open spaces. The works of art on display at SFO -- there are more than twenty galleries through the various airport terminals -- are curated through the auspices of the SFO Museum and the San Francisco Arts Commission. In 1999, SFO Museum became the first airport exhibitions program to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. Today, it is a widely imitated model for other museums that operate in public spaces.

A rotating schedule of art, history, science and cultural exhibitions can be seen and appreciated when visiting or passing through SFO. Now through next April, travelers venturing through Terminal 3 (departures level, post-security) will be delighted with a feast for both their eyes and their imagination with Japanese Toys! From Kokeshi to Kaiju. 

It is because I had arrived at SFO early to avoid being hurried for my flight that I was able to enjoy the Japanese Toys! From Kokeshi to Kaiju exhibition and to learn from it. Visually, the exhibit's toys and movie posters were full of bright colors and filled with whimsy. Vinyl kaiju figures, Ultraman novelties, Godzilla movie posters and a dress made entirely from plush Hello Kitty dolls are among the many items on display in the exhibition. From this enjoyable experience I got to see firsthand the remarkable evolution of Japanese toys.

Who says you can't fly and explore?

Photograph of Japanese guardian dog sculpture by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.


  1. thanks for sharing this Michael...just in time for me as I will be leaving for the Philippines next week...will certainly look this up. best!

    1. You are very welcome, Corazon. There are a lot of really interesting things to see and enjoy throughout SFO with respect to public art.