Airports are transitory spaces. As we move between cities, rush to our gate or glue ourselves to our phones, we don’t always take the time to look around us.
But there are plenty of interesting things to look at in DIA, an airport known for its unusual architecture, mythology and underground tunnels. In fact, many of the city’s public artworks, each of which is funded with 1% of Denver’s major capital improvement projects, are installed at DIA. While some of the more famous ones like Mustang (AKA “Blucifer”) can be seen outside the airport or in the Jeppesen Terminal, there are dozens of sculptures, sound art pieces, murals, paintings, photos and other artworks that can only be viewed past airport security.
To help you pass the time as you’re stuck in the airport during your holiday travels, we’ve put together a tour of DIA art. (Keep in mind that some works have been pulled during construction for its Great Hall Project. You can view a full list of DIA’s permanent public art pieces online.)
Here are the art pieces on display past DIA’s security, plus recommendations from some of DIA’s staff for where to grab a bite to eat while you’re there.
Dual Meridian: Center Core
Built at the same time as the airport, in 1994, this massive, 35,927-pound sculpture is an homage to transportation and transportation architecture. Artist David Griggs used titanium, fiberglass, granite, steel, aluminum, sandstone, slate and rock to depict a transportation evolution from the Iron Age to the future. You’ll see train tracks, a projected map of the globe simulating the experience of flying, and an arch rising in the air as an homage to space travel.
Patterns and Figures – Figures and Patterns: East and West Side Sub-cores
Here’s an example of an artwork that requires a bit more of your active attention. In 1994, artists Barb McKee and Darrell Anderson created eight-square-foot mosaic portraits and patterned borders from terrazzo and one-inch ceramic tiles. While the works are visible at ground level, they’re meant to be viewed from above. It’s only after walking upstairs to the mezzanine that you’ll be able to make out the “patterns and figures.” Anderson’s portraits — featuring a cowboy, a hiker, a mother and child, a skier, a pilot, and more — are meant to reflect the diversity of people passing through DIA. McKee’s borders, meanwhile, are etched with references to Colorado’s geography, history and ethnography, and other pictorial symbols.
Relax: Near Gates 54-58
This low traffic, quiet hallway is a bit of a hidden gem in the airport, and these five light installation pieces by the artist group Electroland play off of the breath of calm you get from walking through it. The works are made with LED lights, tempered glass, photographs and non-flammable acetate to reflect common travel motifs: relaxation, caution, vacationing, advertising, self reflection, arrival and departure. While this area is bound to be relaxing for adults, it also offers opportunities for play; kids will get a kick out of the infinite mirror above.
Spirit of the People: A Gates, Y-Juncture Gallery and the passenger bridge; Jeppesen Terminal, Level 5 near International Arrivals
This three-part exhibition uses paintings, photographs, murals, music and narration to tell the story of some of the Indigenous people living in Colorado, as told by members of 13 of the region’s historical tribes. There are 90 works total, split between the Jeppesen Terminal and A Gates. The Y-Juncture gallery has 62 photo murals of Indigenous tribal members who lived in the region into the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as four painted murals. You can hear the musical piece from “Red Tail Chasing Hawks” (Calvin Standing Bear and James Torres) when walking across the passenger bridge. The pair wrote the 43-minute song compilation, which includes both traditional and contemporary music, specifically for the airport.
While you’re there:
Whether you’re craving sushi, sandwiches or pizza, this market-style grab-and-go spot has something for everyone.
A Denver classic. If you’re looking for a tasty, portable meal for your flight, look no further.
Sit-down Mexican food with a full bar.
For a higher-end option, stop at this steakhouse bar, which offers both meaty and vegetarian options as well as beer from Rock Bottom Brewery Co.
21st Century Artifacts: Sub-core.
These terrazzo, bronze, stone and cement pieces are embedded into the floor of each of the B Terminal’s sub cores, and even run into the bathrooms. Created by Carolyn Braaksma and Mark Villareal, the images reference Colorado’s geology and geography, Indigenous symbols, and some of the fossils that were found during DIA’s construction, many of which are now at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Jack Swigert: Train Platform
This sculpture by George and Mike Lundeen memorializes the late John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr. Born in Denver in 1931, Jack attended the University of Colorado and went on to become a fighter pilot in both Korea and Japan. He was later accepted into NASA, becoming one of the few civilians in the space program. It was Jack who famously said, “Houston, we have a problem here,” while he was a command module pilot for Apollo XIII. He helped safely guide the ship around the moon and back to Earth. Jack was also elected to Congress, but died in 1982 just a week before he was scheduled to take office. Fun fact: He was played by Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13.
Beaded Circle Crossing: Center Core
You can’t miss this giant sculpture. Created by Alice Adams, its iron arches reference Eiffel and Calatrava architecture. It’s now undergoing construction, as DIA staff work to find someone knowledgeable in neon to repair the colorful neon work.
While you’re there:
A recent addition to the airport, this Denver brunch favorite offers breakfast foods and boozy beverages to help you start your morning right.
For quick burgers, fries, custards and more.
Art Chronicles: Multiple locations in the East and West End
These seven photo murals by Alex Sweetman were installed in 1994, the year the airport opened. Sweetman’s landscapes are meant to convey the evolution of the land where the airport sits, referencing the prairie and the wildlife that has inhabited it.
Vorticity: Near Gate C28
Look up! Suspended from the ceiling, these abstract aluminum, LED and stainless steel sculptures are designed to mimic the slopes of the Rockies and DIA’s own canopies. They’re also arranged in a spiral, a contemplation on how pervasive the shape is in nature, appearing in everything from shells to galaxies.
Untitled (Interior Garden): Center Core, above the train stop.
What: Here’s another one that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Artist Michael Singer combines plant material, sculpture and architecture to create a model ruin built above the train stop. The work explores humans’ relationship with time, history and nature.
While You’re there:
This satellite location features a full menu of beer, apps and entrees.
Lastly, if you’re looking for somewhere to rest, read, eat or catch a breath of fresh air during your travels, head over the the newly renovated section of the airport. Each concourse has a brand new patio with chairs, firepits and amazing views.