Julia Moore: the woman behind the airport's art 

Taking a ride with Julia Moore around the new Indianapolis International Airport makes for a bracing afternoon. Not only are you introduced to an amazing array of public artworks — the selection and installation of which Moore has been coordinating for more than two years now — but you also get to feel the blast as a 200-plus ton airliner comes close enough for you to see its rivets as it rides gravity down for a landing.

It’s when that plane comes across our path that the full extent of Moore’s accomplishment comes into focus. It’s one thing to embellish a piece of architecture with works of art, but an airport is a very particular type of architectural beast. Not only is it huge, but motion is practically built-in. It’s a place where shoals of people and machines converge; where the most sophisticated technologies meet brute force.

And then somebody tells you to get in line and take off your shoes …

“The idea was to have artworks that have their own power,” says Moore, as we pick up hardhats and safety glasses before touring the collection whose installation she has successfully supervised. “But they are really part of a program. As you look at them, you can see they all go together. You see themes of flight, Indiana, homecoming.”

So far, 15 commissioned works have been installed, with more to come. Moore’s job was to pivot between artists, architects and construction workers in the midst of a massive site, while also learning about the imperatives associated with air travel logistics and security. “What took a little getting used to was the volume of everything happening at the same time,” she says. “To have so much going on exactly the same schedule was like a hamster moving down the throat of a boa constrictor.”

Moore says that while it’s never too early to begin thinking about how to incorporate original works of art into the process of designing a building, it can, sometimes, get to be too late to make the art integral to the project. With Indianapolis’ new airport, Moore feels the timing was just about right. “The artist has a vision, the architect has a space … sometimes the artist’s vision accommodates the space, sometimes the space accommodates the vision. My job was making sure all that got documented and translated into the construction process.”

That process consists of certain peaks and valleys, like, for example, what Moore calls “the falling out of love phase,” where all the necessary detail work, compromise and construction realities can bear down on an artist before she or he begins the act of physically making the work. “It can be enough sometimes to make the artist have second thoughts. They’re sick of the project, or they’re sick of the people, or they’re sick of their work. It becomes important to step back and remember why we loved the piece so much in the first place.”

But the IIA isn’t just any building. Peoples’ lives are dependent on its functionality. “Whatever we did had to support the airport being a place that primarily serves to get people from Point A to Point B safely,” Moore says. Part of her process became learning as much about what makes airports work as possible. “Going to airport conferences and reading all the trade publications helped a lot.”

This preparation helped Moore and her colleagues get a practical grasp of where works of art might most advantageously be positioned. Generally this meant placing art where people tend to stand around or wait — where, in other words, they might be looking for something to do or see that, even momentarily could break the monotony of air travel. “When I’ve traveled with kids,” Moore says, “I’ve often wanted to distract them, but often there’s nothing to distract them with, but food.”

Art, Moore says, provides the airport with an important dimension. “This is a beautiful building,” she observes, “with beautiful finishes. But once you put people in here, they naturally look for something beautiful to rest their eyes on and think about as they’re traveling. The art gives the airport its character.”

To enhance that character, Moore was especially keen on incorporating works of art with a handmade quality, like, for instance, Martin Donlin’s stunning set of 14 art glass windows found along the terminal’s concourses. The handcrafted glass reveals subtle waves and occasional bubbles. “When you get up close to the artwork, you see the handmade quality,” Moore says. “Especially when you look at other things in the airport that have an industrial, machine-made kind of look. It provides a balance.”

Working with the artists whose works were commissioned for the airport was rewarding for Moore. “We’re all still speaking,” she assures me. That’s because she thinks artists who work primarily on public projects are of a different breed. “They come in and they need surroundings, they need people and they need the context in order to come up with what they’re going to do … Most of the artists who do public art have this social aspect to them. They’re very good at negotiating, they’re very good listeners. They’re charming personalities and they can talk to a wide range of people.”

Moore’s task throughout has been not only to identify the best sites for art and help choose the works to enhance those sites, but to navigate masses of paperwork concerning everything from liability insurance to LEED certification. The end of all this work is an experience that will be affecting for visitors and residents alike. “You want something to ground people a little bit,” Moore says, referring to the airport authority’s conscious decision to not only deploy works of art, but feature homegrown restaurants in a building whose architecture would also make the most of local views. “We want to show people where they are.”

The artists and artworks for the Indianapolis International Airport were selected from among 500 applicants who responded to an international open call in 2004. A team of seven visual arts professionals from Indiana and the U.S. selected 52 finalists. During 2005 and early 2006, 48 of these artists refined their proposals with the Airport Authority. Sixteen of these artists, including eight from Indiana, ultimately received commissions. No state or local tax dollars were used to commission artwork for the new airport. 

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David Hoppe

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