It is a foregone conclusion that airports are now spaces of multiple sensory engagements, for, not only can you shop, eat and get beauty treatments at airports but ‘airport art’ is a reality of our post-modern existence. Some may call it lame or sensational like the scary blue horse, Mustang, with red eyes right outside the Denver airport by Luis Jimenez, while others may delight in the sheer spectacle of it, and others still may ask the question, “But is it art?”
Be that as it may, the latest piece of ‘art’ making waves at the Denver International Airport in Colorado is a talking gargoyle who says, "Welcome to Illuminati Headquarters … I mean, Denver International Airport." He also says he is 243-years-old, and the first Illuminati met in Bavaria in 1776. He flirts with the girls, telling one she has “too much baggage,” when she offers to take him as a store-away in her rucksack, he entertains the kids and their grandparents, giving them something to laugh about on their way to baggage check-in. There are a few folks who mind the intrusion of artificial intelligence or find it creepy and stalker-like but most people are over the moon about it. The artificial intelligence (AI) talking gargoyle has been created by a Denver indie ad agency, Karsh Hagan, and they have taken the plunge with the Denver airport authorities to live up to its infamy as one of the shadiest airports in the USA and rumours that the airport was a secret meeting space for the Illuminati.
Traditionally, gargoyles are meant to protect buildings and Denver already had gargoyles stationed in its baggage claim areas to ensure the ‘safe arrival of baggage.’ Like those statues, the new gargoyle, installed in the airport's concourse in honour of its 24th anniversary, looks like a normal stone statue from afar; but when guests approach it, it comes to life, reacting to their comments and holding conversations with them in real time. As the video shows, the wise-cracking character did not avoid bringing up the airport's shady reputation. The gargoyle is part of a larger campaign from the airport that embraces the conspiracy theories surrounding it. Last year, Denver International hung posters referencing aliens, freemasons, and lizard people outside an off-limits construction zone!
Blogger Alissa Walker dubs airport art as ’an ongoing quest for whimsy and spectacle’. Which is often a ’collection of regretfully bizarre pieces ever to grace domestic airspace’, but to play devil’s advocate, it has people looking and interacting with art while presenting viewers with a sliver of what a city wants to say about itself.
As Cynthia Freeland in her book, But is it Art, postulates, that ’contemporary artists who create work using blood, urine, maggots and plastic surgery are successors of past artists who took sex, violence and war as their subjects….” (Chapter 2 - page 30, But is it Art published, Oxford University Press, 2001). Such art flouts the rules of the distanced aesthetic experience or the feelings of communal religious rituals. From Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes to Chris Ofili's provocative dung-splattered Madonna or Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, the contemporary art world has many strange, even shocking, things put on display. This often leads exasperated viewers to exclaim - is this really art?
In the age of AI, this goofy talking gargoyle might well be a step in that direction. However, as most public art at airports tend to be, it has that element of the popular, which perhaps prevents it from being seen entirely as ‘fine art.’ It may join the ranks of the Space Observer at Mineta San Jose International airport. The 26-foot sculpture by Björn Schülke has propeller arms holding cameras that take live images of passersby, or Cornair at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport, where the giant Jet-powered corn cob by Craig Nutt and a rotating lima bean on a carrot send out the message that these folks love their veggies! In Sacramento airport, it is a giant aluminum rabbit leaping from one storey to the other that has people excited. In the age of the selfies, Snapchat and Twitterbook, airport ‘art’ has people looking at it and posing with it…for now, that might just be enough.