New sculpture at Indianapolis airport is a testament to travel

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Blue Skies
Suspended acrylic spheres are the components of Brenna McCarty’s newly installed “Blue Skies” sculpture at the Indianapolis International Airport. (Photo provided by the Indianapolis International Airport)

The idea of homecomings and new adventures associated with air travel inspired recent IUPUI Herron School of Art and Design graduate Brenna McCarty when she designed a sculpture being dedicated Thursday at the Indianapolis International Airport.

Made up of 205 blue acrylic spheres suspended from the ceiling of the airport’s terminal, “Blue Skies” occupies a 40-feet-by-100-feet space above escalators and stairs leading from the ticketing area to baggage claim.

“The spheres represent human beings coming together and also going out into the world,” McCarty said. “You’ll see that in the center the number becomes more dense. The further they go out, it becomes more separated—representing people leaving this airport.”

The 50 spheres at the center of “Blue Skies” have a more saturated hue than the sculpture’s outliers and pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the International Center. Established in Indianapolis in 1973, the International Center works with government agencies, employers and workers throughout Indiana with a goal to ease communication and provide hospitality for people coming to the state from outside the U.S.

Supported by a $120,000 grant from the Brooks and Joan Fortune Family Foundation, the idea for a sculpture originated at the International Center.

“Instead of having a 50th-year celebration and a big party, we decided to provide something permanently in a prominent location,” International Center CEO Martin Baier said.

The not-for-profit partnered with the airport and Herron to make “Blue Skies” a reality.

Greg Hull, dean of the Herron School of Art and Design, said 12 students initially visited the airport to learn about the International Center’s plans. Six students presented concepts for suspended sculptures, and McCarty’s idea was selected above the rest.

“It’s just been incredible to see what she’s been able to accomplish with this project,” Hull said of McCarty, who grew up in Marion and graduated from Herron this week. In January, she will start a full-time role with lifestyle brand Converse in Boston.

Hull said the 11 Herron students not selected to create a sculpture remained active in the process, including visits to the airport last week for the late-night installation of “Blue Skies.”

“It was an opportunity for everyone to see this whole process and gain that professional experience,” Hull said.

The airport designated “Blue Skies” as a permanent artwork, which isn’t a run-of-the-mill classification. Since the terminal opened in 2008 with 16 commissioned pieces, McCarty’s is the first new permanent art installation.

(Indianapolis artist James Wille Faust experienced a controversial do-over at the airport, where his 2008 installation “Chrysalis” was removed in 2011 to make way for a video wall placed at the escalators and stairs where “Blue Skies” now resides. In 2014, Faust painted his “Wings in Flight” triptych for the airport’s civic plaza.)

Bill Stinson, the airport’s senior director of public affairs, said it’s not necessarily easy to install a large suspended sculpture after a terminal is built and in business.

The spheres of “Blue Skies” were hung from the ceiling during post-midnight sessions Monday through Friday last week.

“We don’t shut down here, but that time is as docile as our crowd will get,” Stinson said.

Brenna McCarty
Brenna McCarty worked on the “Blue Skies” sculpture during her time as a student at IUPUI’s Herron School of Art and Design. (Photo provided by the Indianapolis International Airport)

Stinson said a small-scale model of “Blue Skies” impressed observers.

“It clearly was a quality piece,” he said. “Then the leap becomes, ‘Well, when it’s actually installed and nearly 9 million people a year walk by it, how is it going to look?’ ”

Stinson said McCarty met the challenge.

“This is what we envisioned,” he said.

McCarty’s sculpture now serves as the center artwork in a linear trio that includes “Breath,” the red kinetic sculpture in the airport’s parking garage (a sculpture made 15 years ago by Hull, the Herron dean), and “JetStream,” the collection of perforated shapes suspended above the airport’s Civic Plaza. Artist Rob Fisher designed “JetStream” but died in 2006, shortly after learning he had received the airport commission.

Hull said he challenged McCarty and her fellow students “to recognize that they’re responding to the architectural space, the other art in the building and to really think about the conversation to have with audiences.”

McCarty said she was happy to see subtle movement among the spheres of “Blue Skies.”

“If you pause just for a moment—if you’re not too busy or late to your gate—pause and see the activation that happens from the natural air in the space,” she said.

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