Sculptures take off at San Francisco International Airport 

Flying is more stressful than ever these days — but not, perhaps, if you’re gazing at diaphanous sculptures dangling from the ceiling.

San Francisco International Airport’s remodeled Terminal 2 opens next month with a community gathering April 9 and flight service starting April 14. As part of the $388 million redesign, five new public artworks have been installed.

“San Francisco has a very rich and vibrant culture,” says Susan Pontious, the director of The City’s public art program and civic art collection. “That’s why people come here. We’re not like other places.”

Hanging from the ceiling in the entrance lobby is “Topograph,” a pair of 24-by-24-by-16-foot sculptures from artist Kendall Buster made of steel tubing and greenhouse shade cloth.

“They remind me of upside down rain clouds,” Pontious says. “They really are magical.”

When visitors leave security, they won’t be putting on their shoes in a soulless alcove. In what airport officials call the “recompose area” is “Every Beating Second” — three colorful woven sculptural forms by artist Janet Echelman. Like shadows cast by passing clouds, the shapes are repeated in the terrazzo floor below.

American Airlines and Virgin America will share the terminal, which was closed in 2000 for the renovation.

Parents with a lot of time on their hands will be relieved to find two children’s play areas with installations by San Francisco artists Charles Sowers and Walter Kitundu.

Sowers’ “Butterfly Wall” is sure to keep visitors of all ages busy. Using hand cranks, viewers can make the mechanical butterflies rise to the ceiling and then flutter down.

Kitundu has created two benches shaped like bird wings that children can play with rubber mallets like xylophones. Behind the benches is a mural depicting local birds based on photographs he took around the city.

“When you look at Walter Kitundu’s installation, it’s a recognition that children are also travelers,” says Luis R. Cancel, director of cultural affairs for The City.

Outside the airport, artist Norie Sato has created “Air Over Under,” a giant glass installation for the terminal’s facade.

As part of the renovation, the San Francisco Arts Commission’s public art program received about $3.7 million in funds for the newly commissioned works, along with the reinstallation of 20 works that were already in the airport’s collection.

Old favorites back on display include sculptures by Arnoldo Pomodoro, Rufino Tamayo and Seiji Kunishima, and three tapestries by artist Mark Adams.

Passengers at the gates can view paintings by Joan Brown, Roy de Forrest and other prominent artists.

For more information, travelers will be able to access behind-the-scenes information and interviews with the artists via a Guide by Cell audio tour, which begins operation after April 9 at (650) 352-4331.


SFO Public Artworks

Where: Terminal 2 (formerly Central Terminal), San Francisco International Airport

When: Noon to 5 p.m. April 9 for grand opening


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Cathy Bowman

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