At 7:46 on Friday evening, the dense-looking skies over George Bush Intercontinental Airport made good on their threat and let loose the kind of torrential rain that turns Houston into the Bayou City. But at 7:40, our little threesome was happily jaywalking the airport’s unofficial Autobahn (JFK Blvd) to view Dennis Oppenheim’s final public work, which is best appreciated under shroud of darkness. As it turns out, the little drama of the impending rain was the perfect circumstance for viewing this work, which is meant to mimic giant drops of rain exploding upon hitting the earth.
As a traveler and sometimes supplier of airport ‘rides’ I’ve seen this piece many times, but in daylight it reads simply as a series of formal structures. The dynamic quality provided by the racing LED’s is lost, and the structures, in spite of their bloom-like shape, are rather static. At night they come alive- stationary fireworks exploding over and over again in a spectrum of hues. Every vehicle in the mucky cell phone lot was turned to face them, the idling motorists partaking in the unexpected delight.
My favorite theory on public art is that it’s primary goal should be visual pleasure when you least expect it: on a gray evening, in a banal parking lot, or with jostling, anonymous company. Additionally, that delightfulness should be populist- as able to generate a spark in the passing oil-worker as art-collector. The myriad Kafka-esque miseries of the airport add a special level of contrast to that idea of out-of-the-blue pleasure, making it an ideal venue if executed correctly. (I know I’m not the only one who finds the requisite shoe-removal somehow degrading) In the case of the airport’s Oppenheim, it has the scale and dynamism capable of capturing an audience on a drizzly, dank evening, but gets a bit lost in the shuffle during the day. Perhaps his focus was those who needed a jolt of delight the most, those on the red-eye or their ‘ride’ purveyors.