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Phoenix Sky Harbor Artwork: A Viewing Guide

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It's hard to escape trips to the airport this time of year. Most of us either travel during the holidays or get airport duty when friends and family roll in and out of town. Instead of dreading the experience, make time while you're at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to explore artworks exhibited in terminals, Sky Train stations, and the rental car center. They're part of something called the Phoenix Airport Museum, which exhibits items in the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Public Art Collection.

The collection includes more than 900 works of contemporary art. Most are exhibited at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport rather than tucked away in storage. Some are exhibited at Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, and some at Phoenix Goodyear Airport.

See also: Phoenix Sky Harbor Restaurants: A Field Guide to Airport Dining

The collection includes portable pieces, site-specific installations and architectural enhancements. Most exhibited works are located in pre-screening areas, so you needn't pass through security to enjoy them, and most of those located at Sky Harbor Airport are available for public viewing 24 hours a day.

That way those of you with a hankering for good art can hit Sky Harbor Airport anytime for a quick fix or extended art adventure. Take our handy guide along to help you find your way.

Sky Harbor Terminals

Terminal 2: Home to The Phoenix, a 1962 mixed media work by Paul Coze. The three-panel 16-foot by 75-foot mural, made with 52 different materials, depicts early Arizona inhabitants and industries. It's also home to The Verde River: An Artist's Adventure featuring paintings, drawings, and prints by nine artists who spent three days rafting and camping along the Verde River in central Arizona. They're located in three display cases and the terminal entryway.

Terminal 3: You can't miss On the Spot by Jun Kaneko, which consists of several large-scale, oval stoneware sculptures with polka dots located on Level 1. You'll find Teresa Villegas' Desert Rain terrazzo floors here, too. Look for Ken Torey's stained glass ceiling panels in desert Southwest colors, and a small display case featuring works by artists affiliated with the Arizona Glass Alliance, on Level 2.

Glass exhibit cases filled with a rotating selection of artworks are plentiful in Terminal 3. Nowadays several feature costumes, props, and other pieces with a steampunk vibe -- including rocket packs by Michael Sorensen of Tucson, airships by James Rubin of Scottsdale, and paraphernalia used in the steampunk film Mantecoza. Featured artists include David Stipes, a two-time Emmy Award winner who worked as a visual effects supervisor on four Star Trek flicks. You'll even spot one of Phoenix artist Steve Gompf's "televisors" created with video and found objects.

Terminal 4: You'll find the "Clay: Time, Place, Memory" exhibit, featuring functional and sculptural ceramic works by four Arizona artists, in two display cases on Level 2. "Finding the Beauty in Construction," featuring photographs by Craig Smith taken during the two-year Sky Train construction process, is located on Level 3. "The 7 C's of Arizona" exhibit featuring works by various artists exploring copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, climate, cactus, and canyons, is located in the airport gallery and eight display cases, all located on Level 3. Sorry, night owls -- gallery hours are 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily.

International Walkway: Here you'll find "Arizona Ranchers: Photography by Scott Baxter," which includes images of families who have been ranching in Arizona for a century or more -- all captured during the course of a decade using large format cameras and black and white film.

Sky Train Stations

44th Street Station: Check out the ceiling of the ground floor atrium, where you'll find Blue Stratus, a 150-foot by 40-foot installation by Mario Madayag and Michael Parekowhai and Paul Deeb. It comprises steel and 6,610 aluminum reflector panels painted with six types of blue, plus LED lights placed above to create "a slowly changing tableau of color."

Inside the station you'll spot two terrazzo floors. Daniel Martin Diaz's Journey Through Nature is located on the pedestrian bridge, and Fausto Fernandez's Tailplane Patterns is located on the station platform. Diaz used 10 colors to create a mandala, flowers, and vines within aggregate containing recycled glass, abalone shell, and native desert stones. Fernandez used 10 colors to create rhythmic geometric patterns within aggregate containing recycled crushed glass and mirror.

Beware of staring too long at these mesmerizing works before waving farewell to loved ones boarding the Sky Train, lest they think you're not distraught about their departure.

East Economy Station: This station has its own terrazzo masterpiece, Anne Coe's Topo Magic, on the station platform. Inspired by topographic maps she uses while hiking, Coe used eleven colors to "depict rivers, canyons, farm fields and mountains in a whimsical landscape of wiggling shapes and contours."

Terminal 4 Station: This station is home to a pair of Daniel Mayer works. His Variable Order terrazzo floor is located on the station platform, and his Trace Elements stained glass murals are located on the pedestrian bridge. His eight-color floor includes recycled crushed mirror, plus blue and clear glass. Inspired by letterpress printing, Mayer embedded 1,000 metal letters with a lower-case Garamond italic typeface -- and included two hand-written phrases: "timeless is the open" and "limitless is the open." Each of two 115-foot by 9-foot murals consists of 28 laminated glass panels with a leaf motif.

Phoenix Rental Car Center

The Rental Car Center features 82 pieces, which means you'll have to arm wrestle your travel-mate to decide who gets to dig all the artwork and who has to brave the rental car line. Most impressive is Ed Carpenter's Crosstitch, a dichroic glass and aluminum installation that plays off natural light to create an ever-changing wash of colors and patterns. We're tempted to hang out and watch a full 24-hour cycle, but then we'd get stuck with rental car runts left by folks who did the competitive lining up thing instead.

Four hallways off the center's lobby contain works by several artists. Most depict natural subjects: creek, wildflowers, trees, wash, leaves, bird, canyon, and more. About half these works are linoleum cut prints >by Andy Chuka. Other media include tin collage, oil on paper, woodcut print, digital photographic print, monoprint intaglio collage, watercolor, oil on board, and pictorial weaving.

Fun fine print

You'll find a nifty map featuring specific locations for works exhibited at the rental center online, so it's easy to enjoy a self-guided art tour.

The Airport Art Collection was purchased with Phoenix Aviation Department percent-for-art funds administered by the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.

Those who find themselves especially captivated by the terrazzo floors can hit The Gallery @ City Hall in Phoenix, which is currently featuring the "Art Underfoot: Handmade Floors at the PHX Sky Train" exhibition -- which includes artists' original drawings, computerized models, large graphics, hands-on displays, and an 8-minute video about the 40,000 hours spent creating these floors. It's open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and admission is free.

If reading more fine print on the Airport Art Collection is your thing, or you're an artist eager to learn more about the "Southwestern Invitational Exhibit Call to Artists," visit the Phoenix Airport Museum online.

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