Artist Richard Wilson’s Installation Takes Off At Heathrow

The shiny new Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport will feature a shiny new sculpture by Richard Wilson upon opening in 2014.  Plans for the new monumental sculpture were unveiled this week.

The proposed sculpture is entitled ‘Slipstream’ and evokes a juxtaposition between the dynamism of line and shape with the precise and complicated engineering necessary to execute such a piece.  The completed sculpture will 230 feet long and weigh over 77,000 kg, and these figures place Slipstream at the forefront for longest permanent sculpture in Europe.

Suspended from the ceiling of the atrium of the terminal, the sculpture appears to fly gracefully through the length of the space.  The sheen of the aluminum references industry, and Wilson hopes the work will look like a stunt plane in flight.  The commercial director of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, enthusiastically declared that Richard Wilson’s sculpture will reflect the desired aesthetic appeal of the new terminal by “bring[ing] to life the glamour and excitement of air travel.”
Wilson’s Slipstream was selected by project curators, Futurecity, from an international competition.  Structural engineer Price & Myers will use high-tech computer programming to create the complex shape and Commercial Systems International will be responsible for the construction.

Richard Wilson is no stranger to the combination of art and industry.  The Saatchi Gallery holds the 20:50, one of the best known works by the artist.  Here a vessel perfectly sculpted to fit the gallery space is filled with crude oil creating a dark reflecting pool.  In each of its various installations, a small walkway leads into the center of the basin allowing visitors to come in close contact with the work (except, of course, that the walkway is currently roped off and inaccessible).  Wilson here demonstates that a material as unattractive as used engine oil can become a sophisticated and beautiful work of art.

 Now airports have been designed by world-renowned architects, including Santiago Calatrava in Bilbao, Renzo Piano in Osaka, and Eero Saarinen in New York, among others, and are not as inhospitable and drab as earlier predecessors.  And, the concepts of stunning airport architecture and of public sculpture are clearly not new, but Wilson’s Slipstream may grant Heathrow a higher cultural profile.  Words: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2012

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