Mosaic medallion artworks from old KCI find new homes

Precision Cutting and Coring workers in June 2023 lifted a section with a mosaic medallion at KCI’s closed Terminal B.

38 have been installed in new terminal; 50 more destined for other city-owned buildings

The new $1.5 billion terminal at Kansas City International Airport opened last February, built on the former site of one of the three horseshoe terminals from the 1970s.

This marked the city’s largest one percent for art project — $5.65 million for art by regional and international artists.

But not all the artwork was new — about 40 mosaic medallions from Terminal A’s blue terrazzo floors were also incorporated into the new building.

The medallions debuted in 2004 at KCI in Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel’s “Polarities.” The city’s Municipal Art Commission selected the one percent for art piece that the artists described as “inspired by the phenomena of flight, by dramatic shifts of perspective, and by the mapping of air, of sky and land.”

Imagery on the medallions includes animals, geometric and celestial objects, and Kansas City landmarks, including the iconic “The Scout” sculpture (top left), featuring a Native American on horseback.

These circular works — winged figures, celestial objects and Kansas City landmarks — are now installed at almost every gate of the new terminal as mnemonic art, serving as memory prompts on the beige-colored terrazzo floors.

Terminals B and C are still standing — but not for long. They’re expected to be demolished by the fall of 2024. But, before they’re torn down, more medallions will be salvaged for reinstallation at other sites around the city.

Mark Spencer, arts program manager with the Kansas City Aviation Department, and arts commissioners suggested 50 medallions to save from Terminals B and C. The Municipal Art Commission approved the final list.

Work got underway on this second salvage effort last June starting in Terminal B.

Squares were sliced six inches deep through the concrete — flagged by the word “save” in bright yellow letters. A crew from Precision Cutting and Coring was tasked with lifting each 100-pound section.

“Hopefully, they can pull it up. Some of them took a little more of a tug,” said Spencer, with a laugh.

Spencer wore a yellow safety vest as he walked through Terminal B. He studied the floor, pointing out medallions embedded in the blue terrazzo.

“And you can walk 100 yards without seeing any,” he said. “What the artists did is they clustered them together, as opposed to sprinkling them.”

Animals, such as birds and fish, and honeybees (the official insect of Kansas and Missouri) decorate these medallions, as well as images of notable landmarks, and geometric and celestial objects.

“Conceptually, we were very much interested in the notion of the airport as a place that’s a non-place,” said artist Andrew Ginzel by phone. “People are coming to it, their minds are either from where they’ve been or where they’re going.”

KCI’s old terminals, Terminal B (pictured here) and Terminal C, are expected to be torn down
in the fall of 2024. 

Ginzel described the imagery in the medallions as “punctuation.” Some, he said, referred to “various things — both locally historically, locally geologically, locally civically,” and others “spoke more in terms of flights, physics, thermodynamics, things that one then encounters within the experience of flying.”

Green lines crisscrossed and segmented the floor, and brass inserts created a “charged field” for plus and minus symbols.

“We all exist in an electromagnetically charged existence,” said Ginzel, “through the dynamic of going around in this circular pattern.”

Spencer says some of the plus and minus signs, as well as compass points, will also be retained “during the final demolition when we jackhammer the floor.”

Not all the medallions have been retrieved yet, but they’ll be stored in a central warehouse, a secured, locked building on the aviation grounds. According to Spencer, the slices of concrete and terrazzo were trimmed to two inches to eliminate weight.

“So then I would be able to lift that by myself,” he said. “And then we’ll label them, catalog all of them,” until they’re loaned out or in a permanent placement in city-owned buildings. The Municipal Art Commission will have the final authority to determine where they go.

Bartle Hall in downtown Kansas City marks the first location outside the airport where the medallions will be on view. Six medallions, including the iconic landmark “The Scout,” featuring a Native American on horseback, and the four-part sculpture installation “Sky Stations,” are on loan and installed in glass cases.

A site-specific public artwork comes with inherent risks — since a building, such as an airport terminal, is not always permanent.

Ginzel says he appreciates “the integrity and the investment” on behalf of Spencer, public art administrator James Martin, members of the Municipal Art Commission and others, in saving elements of the artwork. Ginzel calls it “a noble act.”

But it’s a new iteration for the medallions, he said, as “relics” or “mementos of what has been. They’re
a fragment of a whole.”

“So they’re sort of in a limbo state,” Ginzel said, “like passengers are in an aircraft.”

Photos by Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer and audio producer. Previously, she was an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3, the NPR affiliate in Kansas City, Missouri, for over 20 years.

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