Indianapolis International Airport replacing public art with digital advertising.

by editor on August 10, 2011

Indianapolis International Airport has decided to remove "Chrysalis," a piece of art by James Wille Faust (right). Jan Martin (left) was the engineer who built the metal components for the artwork. / Michelle Pemberton / The Star

Some arts patrons are criticizing a decision by Indianapolis International Airport officials to remove a prominent, three-story sculptural painting from its terminal and replace it with a video screen that shows ads and art.

They see it as a sign that the airport’s commitment to public art is waning — especially coming on the heels of an announcement just weeks ago that a $1 million plan to erect a distinctive “IND” sculpture in front of the terminal is on indefinite hold.

The airport argues that the video display will have artistic value by showing digital art.

But some arts patrons said the move seems at odds with the special attention airport officials gave to public art when the terminal opened in 2008, saying it would serve as a “visual gateway” to Indianapolis culture.

“The strong commitment to public art is now just a move aimed at generating revenue,” said William Potter, an associate professor and director of foundation studies at the Herron School of Art. “To remove it from this space is to destroy it. It’s basically putting a billboard in place of a work of creative passion.”

Creative passion is exactly what the piece, titled “Chrysalis,” was to Indiana artist James Wille Faust, who spent years designing it specifically for that spot and who was told at the onset it would be on display at least a decade.

The airport’s website even called “Chrysalis” a permanent display. On Tuesday, however, airport spokesman Carlo Bertolini said the airport has always had the option of rotating pieces in and out and, in fact, is moving toward a system in which pieces will be brought in on loan.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art, which recently signed on as the airport’s art consultant, likely will help decide what pieces to display.

“The airport will become just a satellite museum to IMA,” said Martha Faust, wife and business manager to James Wille Faust. “It just seems to be undermining Indiana artists. Wille’s heart and soul went into that piece. It was a slap in the face.”

Martha Faust said a curator at IMA told her that other artists whose work is on display will soon be notified that their work is coming down as well.

Bertolini didn’t argue that other art pieces might be removed, calling it the “natural evolution” of art displays. But he said the electronic screen replacing Faust’s work would have artistic value with digital art from Indiana, national and international artists.

“We understand not everyone is going to agree,” he said. “Some people would say there is no place for art here. Others would say the entire place should be an art gallery with runways around it. We try to find the balance.”

The IMA, which notified Faust of his artwork’s removal, declined to comment on the decision, other than to say that it was made by the airport.

IMA board chairman Steve Russell said he had nothing to do with the decision. “The answer is I am not involved at all,” he said.

Mayor Greg Ballard was not aware of the decision until contacted by The Indianapolis Star.

“We were unaware of it,” said Paula Freund, Ballard’s spokeswoman. “We will follow up on it and look into it.”

The Fausts hope someone steps in.

“That’s our hope, that it stays. That’s our only hope,” Martha Faust said. “But we are not naive.”

After all, changing economic times have created the need for more revenue at the airport, which has seen a decline in passengers since 2008.

Even last month’s decision to halt plans for a colorful, 30-foot-tall piece of art at the airport’s entryway was blamed in part on economic concerns.

Whether the big screen replacing Faust’s work with ads will generate significant revenue remains to be seen. But it won’t hurt that the Super Bowl coming to Indianapolis in early 2012 will bring travelers from around the world. Advertisers will want to reach them.

Details on how big the screen will be and how much it will cost were not immediately available. Bertolini said that information will be disclosed in September.

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