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Galleries: Philadelphia's airport is a gallery with wings

Next time you find yourself inside Philadelphia International Airport with time on your hands, check out the art - because it's the only way you can.

Next time you find yourself inside Philadelphia International Airport with time on your hands, check out the art - because it's the only way you can.

Since 9/11, only ticketed passengers who have been through security have been able to see our airport's eclectic, timely mix of exhibitions - a pity, since its program of rotating exhibitions is one of the best of its kind. I was fortunate to have been escorted through the airport's seven terminals by the program's director, Leah Douglas.

Most of the contemporary artists Douglas currently is showcasing have exhibited their work in Philadelphia's galleries and museums over the last two years, and all reflect her search for work that is sophisticated but that also has the capacity to attract a busy traveler's attention. She has written brief, easily understood wall texts for each exhibition.

Leslie Pontz's cocoonish sculptures of crocheted wire over iron chains and other found manufactured objects look like they grew in the desert, and they suit their minimalist, naturally lit location in Terminal A West, where they'll be through October 2009. They're elegant and mysterious; children would likely gravitate to them for their woolly appearance. Nearby in Terminal A, through December 2009, Marisha Simon's fabric installation of a veiled landscape of cattails, grasses and trees memorializes the marshland that existed on the site of the airport (and whose former vastness and majesty you can ponder at the nearby John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum).

Niwaki, the Japanese art of pruning, has inspired Thomas Vance's sculpture, which is in Terminal B through September. It features orblike treetop forms in varying shades of green, all mounted together inside a box that evokes both early televisions and the old-fashioned natural-history museum display.

The most familiar of Douglas' current selections, longtime Philadelphia painter Moe Brooker, commands a busy intersection in Terminal C through August. There are only two pieces in a large glass display case - a painting and a painted construction - but they flatter each other and beautifully show off Brooker's abilities with line, color, and pattern.

Through November, the passageway between Terminals C and D is home to Mark Khaisman's "Tape Noir," a series he began earlier this year. This extremely plain site is virtually brought to life by Khaisman's gorgeous illuminated images of stills from film noir. They're constructed from nothing more than ordinary brown packing tape over a clear acrylic sheet that is mounted atop a light box, but Khaisman's manipulations of tape are startlingly photographic.

Each of Terminal F's three concourses has its own exhibition of paintings. Concourse 1 is home to Florence Putterman's charming fantasy narratives of people and animals, which run through July; Jackie Tileston's overlapping images derived from Chinese landscapes, antique French wallpaper, technology, and other seemingly unrelated sources converge in Concourse 2 through this month; and Tim McFarlane's quirky abstract paintings of coiling and ladderlike forms can be seen through November in Concourse 3.

There are many more exhibitions here - among them a group show of jewelry and metal arts by 17 area artists through October in Terminal D, and, for film buffs, a long-term show of posters for movies made in Philadelphia in Terminals A-East and B (a number of terrifically good films were shot in our environs). You can learn more about all of this at the airport's Web site under "Art & Exhibitions." And watch out. You could miss your flight.

Government work

City Hall is not the most conducive environment to enjoying contemporary art - although you can imagine Mark Dion or another similarly minded artist/cataloguer of the past having a field day here - but, like the airport, it has a program of exhibitions well worth seeing, as is the fusty, amazingly still-original interior of this historic building.

"In Your Dreams," a gathering of art that taps into the unconscious, has a tough row to hoe in these un-Windexed glass display cases, but it makes a valiant effort. Some of the most apt inclusions are photographs by Julia Blaukopf, Sienna Freeman, and Tanya Dodd; drawings by Kip Deeds and Justin Duerr; paintings by Alex Cohen and Mary Ann Leitch; and sculptures by Jonathan Hertzel and Gina Michaels.