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Bohemians at the Gate

Artists take over New York’s sexiest empty building in “Terminal 5.”

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From left, a secuirty guard at Terminal Five, artists Kevin and Jennifer McCoy, Toland Grinnell, and Tom Sachs inspecting the space to prepare for an exhibition.  

It’s easier to get to the top of the Matterhorn than it is to get to JFK,” says Rachel K. Ward, the force behind “Terminal 5” at the airport’s abandoned TWA building. Ward should know; in the summer of 2003, she organized “Eispavillon,” an art show in a man-made ice cave on the alpine peak. The independent curator’s latest project disperses site-specific works by an international group of contemporary artists throughout Eero Saarinen’s sweeping 1962 masterpiece: Toland Grinnell’s trunks on the baggage carousels, a text project by Jenny Holzer on the arrivals-and-departures board.

“Terminal 5” arrives in the middle of a battle over the site’s future. JetBlue and the Port Authority have reached a deal to construct a new terminal right behind Saarinen’s building, to the dismay of preservationists at the Municipal Art Society. Both sides would agree that the vacant terminal, with its Bernoulli-inspired curves, is a stunning backdrop for art. With homages to the style and optimism of sixties aviation as well as timelier meditations on surveillance and security, the show promises to play up our culture’s competing visions of air travel: the friendly skies of Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can versus the reality of air marshals, bomb-sniffing dogs, and endless lines at the gate.

But will anyone without a scheduled flight brave the trip to JFK? The “Terminal 5” team is working to arrange a Saturday bus from Manhattan, and the new AirTrain provides suitably space-age transport. And if all else fails, says Ward, “there’s a captive audience, larger than any museum.”

“Terminal 5,” at John F. Kennedy International Airport, October 1 through January 31, 2005.


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