Have you ever noticed as you navigate your way through New York’s subways that the beautiful artwork in the city isn’t always above ground? Take a moment before you make another mad dash for the subway and experience a first-rate art museum at most any stops, comprised of works created in mosaic, terra cotta, bronze, glass, mixed media and sculpture. This artwork is all created by the MTA ARTS & DESIGN program established in 1985 when the subway system was making a concerted effort to reverse years of decline. ARTS & DESIGN commissions public art that is seen by the hundreds of thousands of city- dwellers, commuters, national and international visitors who travel by the New York City Transit system every day. As the MTA rehabilitates subway stations it uses a portion of its funds to commission permanent works of art. ARTS & DESIGN projects create links to neighborhoods with art that echoes the architectural history and design of the individual stations locations.
There are over 280 STATIONS WITH ARTWORK. Some of my favorites are:
Perfect Strangers, by artist Vik Muniz at the 72nd Street 2nd Ave. station
Perfect Strangers, is a series of three dozen life-size portraits that seem to be waiting for a train along the concourse and entrances to the station. The artwork is based on staged photographs of people the artist knows including restauranteur Daniel Boulud, holding a bag with a fish tail sticking out and Mr. Muniz himself making an appearance in a scene of him tripping and spilling papers from his briefcase.
CHUCK CLOSE, 86th Street and 2nd Ave. station
Chuck Close created 12 large-scale (almost 9ft high) intricate mosaic portraits of New York artists who have formed Mr. Close’s inner circle such as Phillip Glass, Cindy Sherman and lou Reed. Mr. Close has placed two- self portraits that are definitely worth missing a train or two to inspect more closely.
Carrying On, by artist Janet Zweig and Edward Del Rosario at the Prince Street station (R train)
Carrying On is composed of almost two hundred silhouettes of people hauling “stuff” with them as they walk the streets of New York. Begun after the 9/11 tragedy, it represents New Yorkers literally ‘carrying on’ with their lives. The artists worked from photos of individuals moving about, in and out of the subway, always carrying something, from the sublime to the ridiculous (think surf board). The result is a linear narrative work of miniature figures, each of whom has a story to tell. The material used are water jet-cut steel and marble, giving the artwork a clean modern look.
Broadway Diary, by artist Timothy Snell at the 8th Street-NYU station (R train)
Artist Tim Snell says, “the mosaic is composed of 40 portholes that depict scenes and historic sites of the neighborhood (Grace Church, Washington Arch, Cooper Union, Astor Place) The artwork is spread out in an architectural format throughout the station integrating the artwork with the space.
Memories of Twenty-Third Street, by artist Keith Goddard at the 23rd Street station (R train)
From the 1800’s through the 1920’s, 23rd Street was a major vaudeville, entertainment and cultural district. “Ladies Mile”, the fashion and department store haven of the time, was located nearby. In his mosaic Memories of Twenty-Third Street, Keith Goddard represents this area through various hats pedestrians sported back in the day. Both everyday citizens and prominent celebrities of the time (Oscar Wilde, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Sarah Bernhardt, Houdini) are highlighted.
Alice:The Way Out, by artist Liliana Porter at the 50th Street station (1 train)
In the series of mosaic panels, titled Alice: The Way Out, Liliana Porter’s silhouetted figures portray characters from Lewis and Carroll’s iconic novel “Alice in Wonderland”. The artwork echo’s the stage craft found in theaters nearby. The artist evokes the idea of the theatrical and connects it all with the experience of being underground, just as Alice was during her adventures.
The Revelers, by artist Jane Dickson at the Times Square-42nd Street station
Long known as the crossroads of the world, Times Square is famous for many things, most notably it’s crowds, especially during the spirited celebration each New Year’s Eve. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and visitors from around the world gather to watch the ball drop, ushering in the first day of the new year. The Revelers, 70 expressive, life-size figures, each depicted in some form of motion (walking, dancing, linking arms) are seen enjoying themselves and celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
A Fading 9/11 Memorial, 14th Street Union Square Station
Did you know that inside the Union Square subway station, past a small transit police precinct, is an understated memorial wall dedicated to the thousands of vctims that perished in the September 11th attacks? Although seemingly plain in sight, it is one of the most unassuming and therefore, poignant of the 9/11 memorials in the city. Erected in 2002, time has taken its toll on the paper labels that have been lovingly affixed to the subway wall tiles, some have faded or fallen off altogether. Each label is inscribed with the name and hometown of the deceased. There is no official plaque or description…just typed names on scraps of paper, many of which have heart stickers and touching handwritten notes scrawled on them.
Bear in mind that listed above are only seven featured subway stations. There are at least 275 more! If you are interested in seeing the art up close and personal, consider taking the NYC SUBWAY ART TOUR. Quirky, Bronx-born Darryl Reilly will take you on a three hour tour whereto will discover the riches of the art underground.