ORD: DOCUMENTING THE DEFINITIVE MODERN AIRPORT at the Eric Arthur Gallery, U of T Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design (230 College), to May 31. 416-978-5038. Rating: NNNN
I didn’t expect to like this show. I mean, a small exhibit about airport design? Come on. The art world has bigger fish to fry.
But a nice exhibition can be like a carefully designed box or envelope. You can open it up and enjoy what’s inside, or you can leave it intact and still derive pleasure from it.
That’s what this show is like. Well-designed for its purpose, it’s a tiny little thing that makes its obscure subject sing.
It helps that airport design has many everyday entry points. From current pop culture obsessions like Oceanic Air Flight 815 to the annual spring break exodus, airplanes, air travel and the architecture that serves them are a huge part of our lives.
ORD makes that point by looking at one airport exclusively: Chicago’s O’Hare, which after its 1950s opening was the model for modern airports.
Hedrich Blessing’s black-and-white photos from the airport’s early years represent the hopefulness people felt about air travel in the 60s and 70s, a feeling still present to some extent in fantasies of travel today.
These more naive corporate representations are complemented by Robert Burley’s 1980s prints of airport infrastructure meeting the surrounding countryside. Runway lights look humble alongside the resilient weeds that remain indifferent to the noisy demands of the species flitting off above.
Michael Awad’s panoramas of O’Hare’s arrivals and departures roadways have a neat, mathematical feel but also a poetic sense, the hard concrete a foil for the softer, less mappable emotions of comings and goings.
Finally, the gallery alcove is cleverly transformed with powder-blue walls and alternating-colour seating to conjure a 1960s departure lounge.
It’s all well worth the trip.