Art at the airport: O'Hare turns corridors into galleries worth seeing

By anne
November 4, 2006 - 17:45.

I’ve been in and out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at least a dozen times in my life, and yet I had never seen it. Not really. Not until a recent business trip that included a lengthy layover, which afforded me the time. Usually I’m sprinting from Terminal 1 to the far end of Terminal 5 en route to China or some other faraway place. And trust me, that takes a good 20 minutes (even longer in heels), plus a shuttle ride. My apologies to passengers who’ve shared a row with sweaty me for 13 hours after that.

This trip, though, I got to walk slowly. This time, I looked up, down and sideways, and was delighted by each and every view, from the perforated aluminum ribcage of the ceilings to the simulated ribcage of a dinosaur skeleton promoting the Museum of Natural History. What impressed me the most was an exhibit called The Abstract Mind Mural: Exploring Mental Health, sponsored by the Neuman Association. This is a series of paintings and prints in the corridors between terminals 2 and 3. If you’re changing planes, you can’t miss it (unless you are breathlessly lunging toward your gate with no time to spare, of course).

One of my favorite pieces is the one covered with lipstick prints. According to the artist’s notes, it represents the experience of voices always begging for attention in the schizophrenic mind. It gave me chills, as did the piece pictured here: Lunático, 2006, by Cuban artist Antuan. And I feel I really learned something. The Neumann Association would be pleased. Here’s how they describe the exhibit:

The purpose of The Abstract Mind Mural is to promote positive awareness and understanding of individuals living with mental illness and to demonstrate that art is a powerful healing tool.

Healing indeed. While the work was largely that of amateurs, the passion and the pain was evident. This is art by, for, and of the people—all of the people. To see the entire mural, click here.

By the way, a little history. Did you know that O’Hare used to be called Orchard Field? Neither did I. But I’m so glad I looked it up, because the airport’s namesake, as of 1949, turns out to be very easy on the eye! Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Butch” O’Hare, a World War II fighter pilot from Chicago, is known as one of the greatest heroes in naval history. He is credited with saving the U.S.S. Lexington when it was under attack in the South Pacific. His recovered F4F-3 Wildcat is exhibited in Terminal 2. They just don’t make men…er…airplanes…like that any more!

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