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Art Exhibition at JFK Airport's TWA Terminal Abruptly Shut Down

One of the most highly anticipated and provocative artist exhibitions of the New York fall season ended abruptly after its opening party got out of hand.

Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport, closed since 2001, was transformed into an exhibition hall for artists in a show called Terminal 5. Curated by independent curator Rachel K. Ward, 29, the show was conceived to reflect on the "transitory nature of travel, architecture and contemporary art," according to Ward’s exhibition statement.

The exhibition opened to a raucous party on October 1 and was planned to have continued through January 31 with a variety of public events and lectures. But the opening night crowd of artists and hundreds of other revelers (enjoying complimentary Grey Goose vodka and Pop champagne served from airplane carts), which was much larger than anticipated, left a mess including vomit on the floor, broken glass, graffiti on walls, and a broken door, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport. The Port Authority claims liquor was being sold without a permit, but Ward says she did not witness that. She prompted people to leave and closed the party one hour early only because "the crowd had reached a great number," she says.


The show had a number of sponsors, including the Port Authority itself. JetBlue Airways, which plans to construct a new terminal (designed by Gensler, another sponsor) that connects to the Saarinen building, gave more than $100,000 in support. Gareth Edmondson-Jones, a spokesperson for JetBlue, told RECORD that "there’s a list of violations (of the permit for the exhibition) as long as your arm," with a mess that included used condoms on the floor.

Ward would not confirm the damage specifics, and although she says the terminal was adequately cleaned in the following days, the Port Authority pulled the permit and did not allow the exhibition to open to the public as scheduled on October 5. At press time, Ward was in negotiations with the Port Authority to reopen the show. The terminal and exhibition had also been planned as a highlight of the second annual openhousenewyork weekend, October 9 and 10.

"We responded to the size of the crowd by ending the event early, and we responded to the aftermath of the event," Ward told RECORD.

Ward, a New York-based freelance curator of contemporary art, first conceived the exhibition in summer 2003. "I began the project out of dedication to the landmark," Ward says. "I wanted it to be a platform respectful to the building and the artwork. I was heartbroken that this building was closed to the public."

Among the nearly 20 artists in the terminal 5 show, Tobias Wong designed a new gift shop space, Jenny Holzer developed text messages for the terminal’s arrivals and departures boards, and Douglas Coupland designed imaginary machines with shapes derived from aircraft equipment. Ryoji Ikeda, a Japanese sound artist, developed a light-and-sound installation in one walkway and Tom Sachs constructed a skateboard ramp in another walkway. Other artists, whose work included installations, music, fashion, and film, included Dan Graham, Vanessa Beecroft, Sean Linezo, and Toland Grinnell.

Jet Blue, acting as censor, asked that two of the exhibition pieces -- a gold-plated vibrator by Grinnell and a video called "VB 54" by Beecroft, portraying shackled women in Afro wigs and black body paint -- be pulled from the show after a private Vanity Fair preview of the exhibition earlier in the week.

German publisher Lukas & Sternberg has published a 300-page catalogue of Terminal 5, which includes a dedication by Saarinen’s daughter Susan Saarinen, photographs of the artwork and essays about the pieces, the original Ezra Stoller photos of the terminal, new photos of the terminal, never-before-published architectural drawings of the terminal, and essays about Saarinen and the terminal.

John E. Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA