The Best Art Found In Airports Around the World

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Waiting for a flight is a pleasant cultural pastime at these eight airports.

You know the feeling you get standing in front of a Rembrandt or staring up at the statue of David? You can experience the exact same feeling while waiting to board your plane. Airports around the world have embraced art in all its forms and travellers are reaping the stress-reducing cultural benefits. Airport art offers a welcome break from waiting and an introduction to places you might not otherwise have time to explore – you may want to build in some extra pre-boarding time at these eight airports.

October 5, 2020
Image of Sheldon Pierre Louis' "puti kʷala – we are still here" artwork at the Kelowna International airport
Sheldon Pierre Louis, puti kʷala – we are still here, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 in.   Photo: courtesy of the artist
  1. Kelowna International Airport, Kelowna, British Columbia —

    Opening an art installation in the middle of a pandemic (how do you paint when canvasses can’t be delivered due to Covid-19 protocols?) wasn’t easy, but the new exhibit in the Kelowna Art Gallery satellite space at Kelowna International Airport was worth the effort. Brightly coloured canvases with images depicting people in artist Sheldon Pierre Louis’ syilx/Okanagan Nation community welcome, and inspire, travellers at the start of their journeys. Entitled puti kʷala – we are still here, the exhibit features multi-layered canvases showcasing various generations and is a powerful, uplifting celebration of history and culture.

Water cascades down from the glass ceiling into a forested area of the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore
Changi International, Singapore.   Photo: Jewel Changi Airport
  1. Changi International Airport, Singapore —

    If there’s an opposite of “Susan Lucci at the Emmys,” it has to be Changi International, which has won big at the Skytrax World Airport Awards for the last eight years in a row. The airport, which added a new $1.24 billion hub named Jewel in 2019, is an artist’s dream. Among the features: a 130-foot, free-standing waterfall (complete with a nightly light and sound show) and giant, towering topiaries. Over at the main terminals you’ll find plenty more to admire, including seats that double as artistic architecture, cultural shows projected on walls and natural gardens between gates. Don’t miss the Kinetic Rain in Terminal One, where harmonized copper raindrops transform into a host of mesmerizing shapes.

A series of photos on ice huts at Pearson International in Toronto
Pearson International, Toronto.   Photo: Pearson Airport
  1. Pearson International Airport, Toronto —

    The revitalization of Terminal One 16 years ago was met with a sigh of relief for travellers who frequented the popular, but well-worn, hub. Relief turned to jubilation when, along with new eateries and digital upgrades, the airport renewed its commitment to the arts. Exhibits are a mix of Canadian and international artists, decades-old pieces and modern-day creations. Favourites include the Ice Huts by Richard Johnson that line a moving sidewalk and the Open Sky mural by Cree Metis artist Rebecca Baird. If you focus too hard on getting to your international gate, you could walk right through Richard Serra’s 1970s large-scale steel Tilted Spheres installation without noticing – the echo effect and selfie-taking travellers inside will be your first hint to stop and take a look.

  2. Hamad International Airport, Doha, Qatar —

    Why limit your art to a room or a wall? That’s the thinking at Hamad International, an airport-turned-art gallery filled with larger-than-life sculptures – many of which encourage interaction. Pose with a group of 8 Oryxes, peer up at an oversized Pinocchio-esque montage (Small Lie) or let the kids loose on The Playground – a set of equipment whose very shape is reminiscent of a parent who has given up hope and left themselves to their children’s amusement.

A totem pole at the Vancouver International Airport
Vancouver International Airport, British Columbia.   Photo: Vancouver Airport Authority
  1. Vancouver International Airport, British Columbia —

    This airport has long been lauded for its artwork, which focuses on the natural elements that make the province such a huge draw for travellers. First Nations artists’ sculptures, paintings and designs permeate the space while giant red cedar totems, glass etchings and intricate weavings make the airy terminal feel like an extension of the world outside the sliding doors. Displays of local artwork from First Nations students are supported by scholarships from the YVR Art Foundation.

The “Flight Paths” ceiling installation at Hartfield-Jackson Airport that simulates a Georgia forest
“Flight Paths”, Hartfield-Jackson Airport, Atlanta, Georgia.   Photo: Hartfeild-Jackson Airport
  1. Hartfield-Jackson Airport, Atlanta, Georgia —

    The Airport Art Program at Hartfield-Jackson hosts permanent and rotating exhibits that aim to both inform and enthrall. Steve Waldeck’s Flight Paths is a 450-foot-long overhead experience that simulates a walk through a Georgia forest complete with a rain shower and shifting colours, sounds and moods. Meanwhile, in A Walk Through Atlanta History, travellers make their way from pre-Colonial Atlanta to the modern day, learning about everything from Jim Crow legislation to global accomplishments. The tribute to Civil Rights freedom riders and icons, Courage Under Fire, is a must see.

Dutch art hangs in the hallways of Amsterdam's Airport Schiphol
Airport Schiphol, Amsterdam, Netherlands.   Photo: Schiphol Airport
  1. Airport Schiphol, Amsterdam, Netherlands —

    Art lovers who travel to Amsterdam wouldn’t dream of missing a visit to the famed Rijksmuseum, but those who either don’t fancy themselves fancy enough for the gallery or who simply ran out of time can get a small taste of what it has to offer at the airport. A rotating selection of renowned Dutch works shows up in this free satellite branch (the first of its kind in the world) that is open 24 hours a day.

"Leap", a red geometric rabbit by Argent Studio at the Sacramento International Airport
“Leap”, Sacramento International Airport, California.   Photo: Sacramento International Airport
  1. Sacramento International Airport, California —

    While most airport art is aimed at travellers, the gallery at Sacramento International also offers a peaceful moment of art appreciation for the people waiting to pick you up, in addition to pieces placed throughout the terminals. Located before the security gates, The Gallery at SMF is open and accessible to anyone visiting the airport. Though currently showcasing the bright, uplifting work of California painter Tim Collom, the airport is expected to expand its collection to include other artists in the future.

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