“What, in the name of heaven, is THIS?” I wondered when I set eyes on it after my security check at Pearson for the first time. Imagine, if you will, four thick metal sheets curved towards each other in the form of a nested ‘namaste”, but not touching, creating a tunnel like passage between them that people can walk through, as they look upwards and around in wonder, automatically whispering in awe. Not that it would make any difference. The acoustics of this installation, Tilted Spheres , by Richard Serra ensures that even a whisper carries through audibly from end to end! Oh, and it weighs 120 tonnes!
As it turned out, this was just the beginning. Toronto takes its image as a world city and cosmopolitan centre for arts and culture very seriously and the design of Pearson International Airport reflects this desire.
Take the spectacular installation situated just before the Security Check at Departure. I remember being gobsmacked as I walked in and saw hundreds of cubes - red cubes, black cubes, transparent cubes – all floating in front of me. It took me some time to realize that these cubes were inside a massive Plexiglas water tank with internal mechanisms creating jets and currents that carried these cubes upwards and down again, like hundreds of square fish in an aquarium. Really made me ponder, it did. Did the cubes represent workers like me, frozen in office cubicles, buffeted by the currents of corporate life? Maybe the installation was called The Iced Cubes or something? As it turned out, I was wrong. It was not named The Iced Cubes. Instead it turned out to be the work of Ingo Maurer and was named Earthbound…Unbound. Very impressive and arcane, but I still thought my idea had merit.
Paper planes in an airport? Yes, you’ll find that too here. A set of 19 white hanging metal planes resembling paper planes that kids make, set against the white background of the terminal roof, evokes sheer pleasure in the mind, especially if you have a tall beer in your hand to help your thoughts take off. Officially named Flight Song, the artist is Robert Charles Coyle.
One of the boldest statements is made by the literally named Concentric Bands by painter Sol DeWitt. Bright, almost psychedelic in effect, it leaves an impression in your mind long after you have seen it. As does the beautiful ceiling installation Jetstream by the Canadian artists Susan Schelle and Mark Gomes.
These are many other installations. Like the two life-sized bronze tigers that are very popular with the kids, flying fibreglass human figures and some beautiful abstracts on the white walls - all by Canadian artists with mostly unpronounceable names.
As I helped myself to my 3rd beer and ruminated on all the art I saw at Pearson airport, I had to admit that as airports go, Toronto had succeeded in elevating its airport to a higher, um, plane.
Note: This post was originally written for and in published in Time Out Mumbai.