After hearing about a special crop art exhibit of a Van Gogh painting created in the area of the Minneapolis airport and best seen by air, I was determined to try and see it for myself on a trip to Minnesota. But it turns out that searching for Van Gogh at 38 thousand feet was even more of a challenge than expected. Who knew an artist and his art could be so elusive?
Van Gogh in Crop Art
It began after a friend sent a note on Facebook telling me I had to keep my eyes out for a rendition of Van Gogh’s 1889 painting “Olive Trees”-as part of an art exhibit commissioned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) on the occasion of the museum’s centennial. (The original painting is part of the museum’s collection.) For this “exhibit,” landscape and earthworks artist Stan Herd (who’s been doing this type of work for more than 40 years) had been asked to plant his interpretation of the painting in an acre and a half of land located on Thompson Reuter’s campus, and viewable upon takeoff and landing at the Minneapolis airport.
Even before I boarded my Sun Country flight from New York to Minneapolis, I had reached out to a friend who was also flying that day and we’d determined that we were on opposite sides of the plane. I asked him keep his eyes peeled as well. After all, depending on the flight path, we needed to be ready to see the crop art on either side of the plane.
Boarding the plane, I stopped one of the flight attendants to see if she’d be kind enough to mention to the pilot that I was on the lookout for the Van Gogh masterpiece so one of them would potentially announce when we were actually flying over it. I was met with a blank stare as I made the request. It’s certainly been done with other locales like the Grand Canyon, so why not this? Then she blinked and asked, “What’s crop art?” I explained to her that through the planting of seeds and other plants, a picture would emerge clearly from the air. In this case, it was a large-scale replica of a Van Gogh painting. “Wait, you mean like what aliens make in fields?” Um, no. I said this was a planned installation by an artist, not an alien. She said she’d “See what she could do.” I was not convinced by her tone.
Soon enough, I was lost in my reading and I looked up to see we were no longer in the clouds.
There was a patchwork quilt of landscape down below us. Had I missed it? Did I completely lose track of time? My concern was temporarily squelched as the pilot informed us that we were cruising at an altitude of 38-thousand feet and that we had an hour to go before touchdown. Oh, and due to a weather system, we were going to be re-routed just before we got to the Minneapolis area. Oh no! Would we still be able to see the crop art?
An Unexpected Announcement
A long while after we’d been flying at cruising altitude the captain made an unexpected announcement over the loudspeaker. “I’d like to point out something special…” he started to say. This was it! I began to strain my head at the window. “I want to mention that our flight attendant Terry came in on her day off to work with us—even though it was her birthday. I happen to know it’s her dream to have the entire plane sing happy birthday to her. Happy birthday to you…” And so the plane sang to her. People took her picture. Terry came upon a suitcase needing to be adjusted in the overhead bin and proceeded to hand that duty off to another flight attendant. After all, it was her birthday.
In the Clouds
Clouds. Everywhere. As far as you could see. We were back in the clouds. Some rain, and more clouds. A bit of turbulence, and still more clouds. No sign of Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees.” No sign of anything Van Gogh-related. No sign of any olives, even on the drink cart. Finally, the clouds lifted. Or we lowered. But I could see land. And then the captain announced we’d be landing shortly.
I kept my eyes peeled as we flew over the sewn together landscape of baseball fields and football stadiums, pipelines and freeways. I saw what looked like a giant button waiting to be attached to something. There were zig-zagging lines, lines that looked like bar graphs, cloverleafs, textures and colors. A lake that looked kind of like a gall bladder. Rows and rows and rows of homes. But the Van Gogh painting replica from MIA was…MIA.
And then, we landed. I would have to continue my quest on my return trip.
The Return Flight
The weather forecast for the return flight from Minneapolis was good. Spotty clouds, no rain, and no need for re-routing. Once again, I asked the flight attendants to alert us as to when we were nearby. This time they looked at me with expressions of complete cluelessness as to what I was referring to, or seeming distrust as if I was pulling their leg.
On this flight, I had an aisle seat. The passenger in the window seat had brought her own pillow and promptly fell asleep before the plane doors were even closed. (But not before she’d cleaned dirt out from under her fingernails with a small set of tweezers and then wiped her findings on the pillowcase.) There was no one in between us, so with the skills of an untrained ninja, I snuck over to the next seat and began scanning the landscape through a strong smear of fingerprints.
I realized that even if I did see the crop art, my photo would be full of fingerprints. I couldn’t exactly reach over my sleeping seatmate and clean it, could I? Or could I? As I sat there taking in the surroundings on the ground, she awoke, looked at me and asked, “Are you ok?”
No! I was not ok! I was on a quest! Searching for the holy grail of crop art! “I’m fine, thanks. Sorry, I was just trying to see something out the window.” Not worth the full explanation, for we had climbed rapidly and we were now, once again, in the clouds.
Oh heck. It turns out that there’s another flight attendant celebrating a birthday on the way back! This time, there’s no need for us to all sing to Mariah (that was her name) because another flight attendant took over the loudspeaker and belted out a Mariah Carey-ish version of the birthday song in Mariah’s honor.
As I exited the plane later, the captain had come out of his cabin and I asked him if he’d seen the crop art on his many flights to and from Minneapolis. He said he had no idea what I was talking about. I filled him in. “When we’re taking off and landing, we aren’t spending time looking at the ground, we’re looking at our instruments,” he told me. I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of that. Although he said now that I’d told him about it, he’d look for it moving forward.
But I never got to see the crop art from the air. If you’ve seen it and taken pictures, please send them along so I can live vicariously through you. Or, you can check out the MIA website where they have now posted a video of the process from beginning to end. The folks at the museum mentioned to me that Delta Airlines flies a slightly different flight pattern and they have featured the work on a number of their flights.
The carefully cultivated land is set to remain on view through the end of fall. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a chance to see this “Van Gogh” from the air before it gets even colder and returns to the earth from where it came.