What’s one way to keep an airport profitable, despite mounting costs and employee union problems? The managers of Terminal 1 at John F. Kennedy Airport decided that what they really need is a few more food stands in the rotunda, and it didn’t matter if a simple two-story piece of public art got in the way. When the Terminal One Group Association told artist and School of Visual Arts professor Alice Aycock that they would be destroying her “Star Sifter” sculpture, originally installed in the airport in 1998, the artist immediately sued to stop them, arguing that removing the work represented a breach of contract.
The original commission stated that “Star Sifter” would not be removed unless it was “required or necessary to do so,” noted Aycock’s pro bono lawyer Jo Backer Laird in a statement. According to Laird, adding another Starbucks doesn’t exactly meet the conditions of that restriction. Beyond legal and moral issues, there’s another reason to keep Aycock’s work installed: The piece, a swirl of abstract metal elements suspended above a wire mesh, was designed to act as a net, preventing airport visitors on the second floor from tossing down objects to passengers who had already passed through security.
Yesterday, U.S. district judge Robert W. Sweet issued a restraining order against the Terminal One Group Association temporarily preventing them from moving forward with their plans for the sculpture. Sweet has set a hearing for Friday to decide on a final injunction against destroying Aycock’s work. The artist was surprised by the terminal management’s drastic proposal. When airports have previously had to work around her sculptures, “They tell me well in advance, they look for an alternate space, they save the work and they reinstall it. They prioritize the work of art,” Aycock told the New York Times.