Issue 55 / Taking In The Global Airport Art Scene

Taking In The Global Airport Art Scene

Jun 25, 2016

Havens of comfort — or extreme anxiety — for travellers, airports are increasingly being truss up to work as destinations themselves.  We ask the question: are airports the art galleries of today? We think so!

Joining the ranks of the world’s most live-able and entertaining airports is Mumbai’s T2, which also hosts India’s largest public art program. Cake on arrival? Limo drop? A cuddle from Goldie? There’s so much more to one of Asia’s largest and most strategic airports, which reflects the spirit of the city.

Whoever said the journey is the destination, was definitely not a frequent flier. The indefinite hours spent holed up and endlessly counting sheep in queues and lounges with other weary folk — never mind overpriced coffee, meals and snacks to hurl into your stomach because there’s nothing else to do — can’t be anyone’s idea of joy. Some international airports can be the pole opposite of the cities they inhabit (looking at you, Charles de Gaulle) where you’re desperately seeking any means to expedite security, immigration, duty-free, everything … fast. That said, frequent fliers learn to live with what they’ve got, often getting pleasantly surprised in the process.

Homes Away From Home

Just this last year, I’ve had the most fun at airports across the world. At Zurich, given the indubitable preciseness of Swiss Railways — all I had to do was hop out of a train, hop into an elevator, glide out and drag my luggage for less than two minutes, to Radisson Blu, one of the loveliest airport transit hotels. One look at the 52-ft high, stunning Angel’s Wine Tower glowing in blue at the foyer, and the anxiety of a 4 am flight is considerably soothed. A good five hours in one of their airy, spacious rooms, gobbling mixed nuts from the mini bar before 40 winks and I was good to go.


The Radisson Blu's foyer with the stunning Angel Wine Tower at Zurich Airport.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

There’s always good old Changi. I’ve spent a record 12 hours in this oasis waiting for a Mumbai flight (having landed early from Cambodia). I blissfully killed time in its tropical gardens — echoing Singapore’s famed penchant for creating beauty without any natural resources — with foot massage chairs spread through Terminals 2 and 3, mammoth food courts, beds-on-rent and a free movie theater (why don’t more airports have these?)


              There's good reason why Changi tops the best as well as the happiest airports lists every year.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar


         Another deserving award-winner, the CIP Lounge at Ataturk Airport is as comfortable as itis glamorous.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

                    Kainuu at Helsinki Airport is an oasis of calm, perfect for slaying your downward dog game.

Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

Airports which reflect their city’s heritage are like a microcosm of the bigger experience, even more valuable when you’re just passing through. The Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge — voted the world’s best Business Class lounge in the world — reflects Istanbul's rich East-meets-West architecture. At Helsinki Airport, the free Kainuu Lounge near Gate 30 is a delightfully soothing place to hang out while you’re waiting for your flight. (I’m biased though, I find the entire airport and staff most pleasant and stress-relieving.) The Scandi-cool ambiance percolates down to the Finnish Forest Frequency sound design that makes you feel like you’re in the forest, chumming around with reindeer.

Seamlessly blending Indian history, art and culture with contemporary touches, Mumbai's T2 is a national treasure.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar
Gateway To and From Mumbai

Typically, home bases are often ignored when you’re globe-trotting. When the GVK Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport’s glamorous new T2 terminal in Mumbai launched in 2014, it was an instant hit. The eternal war between Mumbai-Delhi airports finally had an undisputed winner. Its design is inspired by the Indian national bird, the peacock, and the high profile terminal – handling 40 million passengers annually – continues to be a magnificent and flamboyant reflection of Indian heritage. They’re also big on adorable secrets, like this quartet of furry golden companions – Goldie, Pepe, Sunshine, Pearl, Myshka – who are available for anxiety-quelling hugs and cuddles at both the international and domestic terminals between 5:30 to 11:30 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

                                    T2's secret superstars, comfort dogs from the Animal Angels Foundations.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

And yet, I turned up one flight after the other, tired, bored and increasingly too languorous post check-in and immigration to bother exploring this hot new home base. After a latte at Costa Coffee, a panini at Olive Bistro, a browse through the Crossword store and pop in at Swarovski, would be done and dusted, dreading the flight. Finally, I took the bull by the horns last month and booked – via email – a GVK Pranaam Platinum Plus package to shake things up a bit. Offering a stress-free and seamless experience from arrival to departure, this is that secret service that’s been lurking around for years and that most regulars don’t know about – unless you’re travelling with three bawling babies, two toddlers and a few senior citizens. (GVK’s guest services also include group packages for the great Indian family.)

      From curb to gate; the service is ideal for travelers with babies or senior citizens, or just about anyone.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

Bright, shiny and bushy tailed at 4 am, a dapper Pranaam executive met me at the airport curb – where I was planning to sleep if nobody arrived immediately – and initiated a buggy ride, smoothly weaving through check-in and security to the Pranaam Lounge, a bright airy, fuss-free space which you can book separately starting at Rs 2000 for two hours per adult and Rs 1500 per child. If you’re in for a really long haul, they’ll drop you off at CSIA’s chic transit hotel, Niranta.

I had just four hours to kill, a couple of which were spent productively over my laptop and snack breaks, as air hostesses and pilots glided in and out. The best part of the experience though was later, when my personal guide, Gracy D’Souza (who, at that unearthly hour, had gamely hopped on a ‘Mumbai local’ from her home far in the Western suburbs and available for assistance throughout) took me on a tour of the terminal.  Never mind souvenir shopping and trend-spotting at Michael Kors, there was a superb surprise in store.

                              The very gracious Gracy holds fort in the wee hours of dawn at Pranaam Lounge.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar


   Hot poha and unanswered email on a bright Mumbai morning.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

   The GVK Pranaam Lounge, bright and airy.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

The Tapestry of a Mighty Sub Continent

It’s a well advertised fact that the 3.2 kms art corridor – named Jaya He – at the T2 terminal is India’s largest public art program. However, the overall impact of this massive undertaking doesn’t hit home when one tours it in bits and pieces.

The most that everyone gets of it is during the long walk after disembarking from a flight and dragging yourself to the baggage drop area, is the section named Layered Narratives. But a curatorial treasure on urban India spanning a looming technicolor Bachchan from the '70s, vibrant vignettes of Dharavi – my favourite work is the kitschy cool ‘Where’s The Party Tonight?’ by Alexis Kersey. It's engaging when you’re worn out after a flight and potentially in a homicidal state of mind.  

            The installations are vibrantly reflective of India's heritage.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar


With Gracy and a buggy by my side, I was fresh and ready to marvel at the stunning displays; there are over 7000 commissioned art objects including antiquities and 100 commissioned contemporary works in the terminal. The magnum opus is credited to four years of hard work and soaring imagination by award-winning scenographer and art curator Rajeev Sethi, who has split the art corridor into various themes that collate under various themes that collate art from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Headlined by the theme ‘Mumbai transiting through time’, the murals that capture the city’s ephemeral yet eternal spirit are endlessly fascinating, and quick way to ‘feel’ the city without stepping out of the airport. You can even email a postcard of any of the artworks to someone you love (and someone who digs art) from the kiosks installed to guide you through the mammoth collection. (I did, to my nephews!)

            Jharokha Land – A part of the 'Theatrical Screening' installation by Moreshwar Patil and Anil Naik.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar


By the time I had to leave for my flight, I was quite the pretentious culture vulture, Googling Anjolie Ela Menon, Mithu Sen and Nek Chand’s oeuvres and dashing off pictures of kushti and kashta murals to sleeping friends. I completed Gracy’s request for feedback on the very comfortable and courteous service while we waited for my flight near Gate 76, admiring the lotus-shaped chandeliers designed by Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla. My immediate suggestion was for a formal art tour for guests with a curator-artist breaking down the philosophy and lineage behind the art program and contributing artists. Like India itself, the canvas may be eye-poppingly wide to cover in one visit, but there are always more visits ahead.

Suresh Muthukulam's Kerala mural style painting with genuine artifacts.
Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

What better way to bid a temporary adieu to India and her incomparable financial capital!

Main Image Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar


Aparna Pednekar


 Aparna is an India - based travel writer for leading lifestyle and fashion publications. She's also a gemologist and jewelry designer. New cities, new food, cats, dogs, snakes, hours of walking and driving fuel her incurable ADD.


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