Airport Art: Michael Stutz’s Peplos Kore


Michael Stutz, The Peplos Kore, installed 2005 5.5’x22″18,” shredded cardboard over plywood armature, San Francisco Terminal 1, installed 2005 (photos © Liz Hager)

If you fly through SFO with any frequency, no doubt you’ve noticed the special exhibit cases running the length of the Arrivals Hall from the security gates to the boarding areas.  The exhibits change every so often. From what I was able to tell over the years, albeit it from the poor vantage point of a brisk moving-walkway, they ranged from the cute (e.g. toys) to the educational (e.g. the antecedents of computers) and even the seriously interesting (e.g.Scandinavian furniture design). On the one hand, art in airports is a novel concept; since many corporations have deemed public access to lobbies a security risk, an airport is one of the few public places that masses of people can actually still see free art. (Not all of it is behind the security gates.) On the other hand, when traveling, who actually has the time, or feels they have the time, to spend really looking at pieces of art?

Because of this,  I am sorry to say that the scope of the commitment at SFO to permanently-installed contemporary art had actually never registered with me.  A recent trip changed that. My husband is a seriously nervous traveler. Thus, with lots of time to spare, we ambled down Terminal 1 to Gate 46. Passing Deborah Butterfield’s metal horse released a moment of thought.   Reveling in a new-found sense of leisure, I purposely scanned both sides of the aisle in search of other art. What I saw amazed me. Over there was a Manuel Neri; my, my, there’s a Jun Keneko ceramic sculpture; oh wait, isn’t that a…NOGUCHI?

Under the aegis of the SF “Public Art Ordinance” (under which 2% of the cost of the construction of government structures goes to art) and the curatorial direction of the SF Arts Commission, SFO has been collecting works since 1977, both through commissions and purchases. The permanent collection now numbers more than 75 pieces by modern and contemporary artists, many of whom have lived or had some association with San Francisco.

With 20 minutes until boarding, I pondered Michael Stutz’s cardboard Kore, which, from what I can tell, the Arts Commission commissioned from Stutz (for $33,000, as notes to the Commission meeting reveal). Korai are the female statuary equivalents of male Kouros, not exactly deities, but perhaps based on Persephone, goddess of the underworld.  In keeping with this interpretation, they were often deployed by wealthy citizens (circa 6th century BCE) as votives or stand ins for the patron with the gods at the grave site of a family member. Korai are almost always approximately life-sized, although curiously not replicating human proportions, and fully clothed (just the males were nude). Stutz has replicated the Peplos Kore at the Acropolis—facing frontal, one foot slightly ahead, one-arm extended with an offering, a wreath or incense perhaps, to their respective deities.  In a wink to our modern experience of the icon, his statue too is missing her hand. In emulating the garish colors traditionally painted on the Korai through the colors of everyday “found” objects (cardboard strips), Stutz contrasts the mundane with the sacredness of a precious cultural artifact.

But why choose a Kore, and why the Peplos Kore, for this venue?  As the agents called for boarding, I was left to wonder what Stutz’s modern-day equivalent of a commemorative statue for the dead was ultimately saying about our airport.

Interested in more?

For a full listing of works and their locations: SFOArt.

Michael Stutz


Peplos Kore


3 Responses to “Airport Art: Michael Stutz’s Peplos Kore”

  1. Michael Stutz Says:

    I just saw your web page about the Peplos Kore at SFO. In deciding what would be appropriate for the airport ( it is a site specific commission) I knew the sculpture would be enclosed in a plexiglass case, protected like a museum artifact. This is an awkward, strange way to view sculpture,…Joseph Beuys talked about how one can hear a sculpture before seeing it, which I have taken as a way of expressing the effect of a 3d object upon physical space. The Kore’s “frequency” is muffled, a bit removed, untouchably precious.

    Your thoughts about the funerary aspects of the originals are intriguing… The airplane as a 35,000 feet altitude sarcophagus.

    Best Regards.

  2. Sharon Wienbar Says:

    I just encountered this piece today, as I rarely fly Delta, but I did a double take passing by then kept coming back to her as I awaited my plane. And how wonderful to find that the first google hit is yours, Liz. SFO has many treasures, but this new piece is a cool combo of classical form and funky medium.

    • Sharon, So glad you found her and us! You are absolutely right about the treasures in SF, and we’re committed to bringing them to readers’ attention. So…if you are interested in more Bay Area art, there are a number of ways to find our coverage: either go to the Venetian Red home page and type “Bay Area Art” into search field OR scroll down to “Categories” window pull down menu and select Bay Area Art Scene OR simply click on this connection to our index of posts— Bay Area Art.

      Enjoy! And thanks for being a VR reader.

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