Fear of Flying: The Top 10 Artworks of Airplanes


Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer travel season, and while some of us may prefer to travel by car, others are currently printing out boarding passes and heading to the airport for a exciting journey to an exotic place. Since summer invites the discovery of cultural capitals and exploration of distant sites, we’ve assembled a lively mix of art about airplanes — ranging from Andy Warhol’s painting of a newspaper headline of a plane crash in France and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s expressionistic canvas of a plane flying over a city skyline to Hiraki Sawa’s video still of miniature jets flying around his apartment and Tom Sachs’ DIY reconstruction of a complete airplane lavatory — to help you overcome any possible fears of flying and to get you planning where the next walk through airport security will take you. Enjoy!

Chi Peng, Sprinting forward-2, 2004, Groninger Museum

Growing up under China’s one-child policy, Chi Peng digitally multiplies himself in this photo to create playmates that are carefree while still chased by government forces represented by a fictional fleet of red planes.

John Baldessari, Raised Eyebrows/Furrowed Foreheads: Airplane (Concorde), 2009

Pairing a found and altered photo of a figure with a furrowed forehead with an appropriated picture of a Concord jet taking flight, John Baldessari constructs an enigmatic image that humorously comments on contemporary times.

Hiraki Sawa, Dwelling, 2002. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery

Miniature planes dominate an otherwise nondescript apartment in Hiraki Sawa’s computer manipulated video, which he made while still a graduate student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Blue Airplane), 1981. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Jean-Michel Basquiat energetically obliterated most of the surface of his original imagery drawn on a black canvas, save for a lone plane that he ennobled with his signature crown, like a symbol of escape or saving grace.

Tom Sachs, LAV A2, 1999. Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo

A DIY tinkerer with a wild imagination, Tom Sachs spent his time on a trans-Atlantic flight measuring and documenting the bathroom facilities for his 1999 sculpture LAV A2, which is a completely functioning lavatory made mostly of foamcore and glue.

James Rosenquist, F-111 (detail), 1964-65, Museum of Modern Art

James Rosenquist’s seminal Pop painting measures 10 feet high and 86 feet long to reflect an image of 1960s America like a billboard projecting various aspects of military might, represented by the Air Force F-111 fighter jet, mixed with down home pleasures.

John Schabel, Untitled, Passenger #12, 1995

Shot from the airport terminal, John Schabel’s grainy Passenger photographs capture people in a transitional moment—seated and filled with anxiety, while waiting to depart.

David Salle, Snow White, 2004. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery

From his Vortex series, David Salle’s realistic painting, Snow White, mixes scenes from a pornographic comic of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with two incoming private planes and an unidentifiable, twisted mass of content.

Andy Warhol, 129 Die in Jet (Plane Crash), 1962, Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Hand-painted, as opposed to his signature-style silkscreen on canvas, Andy Warhol’s 129 Die in Jet (Plane Crash) nonchalantly reproduces the cover of a local New York newspaper reporting a deadly plane crash in France.

Peter Saul, Rough Landing, 2007

Celebrated for his social satires, Peter Saul shows three guys symbolically going down with the ship—or in this case, the plane—in Rough Landing, which could be inspired by any number of political or financial scandals of the time.