Inside Newark Liberty Airport’s Artful Reinvention

Layqa Nuna Yawar and Karyn Olivier enliven the airport’s soon-to-open Terminal A with artworks reflecting New Jersey’s oft-overlooked history.

“Between the Future Past” by Layqa Nuna Yawar at Newark Liberty International Airport. Photography by Zack Dezon

The ongoing makeover of LaGuardia Airport—an $8 billion revamp of its passenger infrastructure that involved teaming with the Queens Museum and Public Art Fund to mount large-scale art installations by the likes of Rashid Johnson, Jeppe Hein, and Aliza Nisenbaum—has been hailed as a triumph by locals who long considered it the armpit of New York’s three airports. Next up in the spotlight is Newark Liberty International Airport, whose just-completed Terminal A makeover by Tutor Perini/Parisons involved commissioning two permanent large-scale artworks by Layqa Nuna Yawar and Karyn Olivier that reflect New Jersey’s oft-overlooked history. 

Stretching across 350 feet of the arrivals hall and concourse level is Nuna Yawar’s celebratory mural, which the Ecuadorian-born, Rutgers-trained painter adorned with vivid depictions of obscure figures with New Jersey connections—the photographer Dorothea Lange, transgender rights activist Marsha P. Johnson, and jazz singer Sarah Vaughan. Cascading through 52 feet of the three-level terminal, meanwhile, is Olivier’s largest installation to date, featuring stacks of 17 floating and parallel metal rings emblazoned with panoramic photographs the Trinidadian artist took of New Jersey’s most recognizable sites. The rings compress and expand with the viewer’s position, revealing a rich topographical mosaic that echoes the disorientation of traversing time zones. 

“Approach” by Karyn Olivier. Photography by Zack Dezon

“New Jersey has always had an identity crisis—we’ve always stood in the shadow of New York,” Kevin O’Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority, which commissioned the artworks with Public Art Fund, told the New York Times. As the terminal prepares to reopen, however, “New Jersey can tell its own story about its rich history and its people. It’s a land of immigrants that have made this state so wealthy in terms of its culture.”

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