New public art arrives at Tampa International Airport as part of major expansion

Big, red, and soaring overhead, you may recognize his work instantly from Complicated Beauty: Contemporary Cuban Art at the Tampa Museum of Art that ended this past February. Now Esterio Segura’s “Goodbye My Love” will find a permanent home here.
As part of the Tampa International Airport’s multibillion dollar expansion, $3.2 million is for new public art that will enhance the sometimes-frantic travel escapade to create a unique experience for travelers that will leave a positive reflection on their view of Tampa.
“We have had public art at Tampa International Airport since it has been in operation for the past 40 years, but it had been eight years since the last time we’ve acquired anything for our permanent collection. It was a daunting task to ensure we have art that our entire community and the 20 million people that travel through this airport every year can be proud of,” says Chris Minner, Executive VP of Marketing and Communications and Chair of the Public Art Committee.
An international call for art was issued in August of 2015, resulting in an impressive 753 national and international entries. Margaret Miller, Director of the Contemporary Art Museum at USF, helped guide the operations alongside the Public Art Committee, a group made up of airport staff members as well as art officials throughout the Tampa Bay region -- including Dr. Seth Pevnick from the Tampa Museum of Art and the previous director of the Museum of Fine Arts St. Pete. Dr. Kent Lydecker, among others -- for a reputable collection.
The entries were whittled down to 50 artists and artist-teams to submit a more in-depth proposal. From here, nine artists were selected to create one unique piece for their specific location.
“We’re very proud of our collection, our airport and the services we provide to all of our travelers,” Minner says.
Cuba on our minds
Born in Santiago, Cuba, Esterio Segura wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. While that may not have become his career destination, his glossy red winged hearts will hang in Tampa’s newly renovated travel hub.
“The themes that Esterio works in are quite broad, but one concept that runs through his work very strongly is the idea of escape and flight. He puts together these hybrid forms of winged objects, and they remind you of the struggles of Cuban people crossing the Florida Straits,” says Noelle Smith, Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art and newly appointed Deputy Director at USF’s CAM.
Initially hand-formed in clay before a cast is made to reproduce them in fiberglass, seven of his heart-shaped airplanes will glide over visitor’s heads in a streamlined formation in Airside F. (Airside F serves American Airlines, British Airlines, Cayman Airlines, Copa Airlines, Cuba Charters, Eastern, Edelweiss Air and Lufthansa.)
There’s poetry in its simplicity: It’s a quick, easy-to-understand symbol that is perfect for public art, yet also one that can be pretty loaded considering all of the contextual information.
In an artist statement, Seguro says, “In this work I reference the experience of uprooting, nostalgia and loss. The reference to the airplane hybridizes with a reference to another well-known universal symbol: a simplified image of the heart. This is fused with an easily understood title with several meanings: from the most corny and sentimental, to the most controversial from the political and social standpoint.”
Mixing art, tech and architecture
Artist Daniel Canogar was chosen to create a piece at Airside F just past TSA security as a beacon for both arriving and departing travelers.
“The truss system in the terminal is so present that it was really challenging for me to know what I could do with this space. Anything that I drew that was hanging under it was overwhelmed by what was above it,” Canogar says.
The artist’s interest lies in creating screens that bend and twist to engage the viewers and architecture in a different way. For his site-specific project “Tendrils,” ribbon-like digital screens organically wrap around the architectural structure like vines growing up a tree.
The screens will project dazzling, growing digital plants, but what’s even more interesting is that they aren’t just pre-planned videos.
“The work is algorithmic. We have a computer that decides the species of plant, how many flowers it will produce, and the speed of growth. We have remote access to Tendrils from my studio in Spain so we can continually add new species. I think of this project as a garden I will tend to over the years,” the artist says.
Local representation
Elisabeth Condon is a long-standing figure in Tampa’s art scene, teaching at USF from 2003-2014 and exhibiting throughout Florida, nationally and internationally. Serendipitously placed by the International Arrivals hall at Airside F, her piece “Verdant Tampa Bay” takes cues from Chinese painting while nodding to the Florida environment.
“The things about Chinese painting that interest me are concepts that make it so relevant now: the time-lapse while moving through space, textures that create a sense of variety, and movement through a landscape. The question for me was: How can I add all of these elements into a single work that is not moving?” Condon says.
Her visual research involved trips to the Hillsborough River, Sunken Gardens, Selby Gardens, and even historical sites such as Indian mounds to gather reference pictures.
“I use tracing and drawing to absorb this visual material inside my body before I work on the paintings. I try to digest it and create a language for it that makes sense for the painting and the location,” she says.
The final, large-scale painting is an explosion of foliage, colors and textures that respond to the different seasons and places around Tampa, in line with works recently displayed at the Tampa Museum of Art during Skyway: A Contemporary Collaboration.
Other artists and their anticipated works:
  • Nick Cave’s “Palimpsest” is a 1,500-lb. hanging bead sculpture in the rental car facility that is reminiscent of his heavily textured Soundsuits. (Cave is no stranger to Tampa: his Heard performance was a part of Lights on Tampa 2015.) 
  • Erwin Redl will have a hanging LED light installation “Symbols, Systems, and Proportions” by the north escalator at the rental car center, created with symbols you might see at an airport. (His work was also featured locally during Lights on Tampa 2006.)
  • Tim Prentice and David Colbert are collaborating on a hanging kinetic metal sculpture that reacts to the lightest of air movement above the automated people mover at the rental car station.
  • “Greetings from Tampa Bay” by Sheryl Oring is part performative piece, part sculpture. She travelled around the Bay Area to gather people’s stories, which informs her sculptural piece where these stories are typed up and juxtaposed alongside photos of Tampa. Oring’s piece will be installed in the automated people mover station at the economy garage.
  • Ralph Helmick’s large turtle sculpture “n + 1” will be located in the main terminal, with 1,000 hatchlings hovering above it in an expanded turtle-shaped formation. This installation will hang above the automated people mover at the main terminal at the center of the station.
  • The ninth commission, created by the Netherlands-based Frederik Molenschot, is yet to be determined.
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Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”