For over 25 years, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has been commissioning art in the world’s most far-reaching underground gallery: The NYC subway system. In those 25 years, some incredible installations and displays have helped New Yorkers enjoy stunning pieces as they rush to their morning meetings. As of spring 2013, 70 new pieces are being completed and there are installations in over 200 New York stations.
One of the most memorable pieces ever on display was created by Heins and La Farge in 1904, and it’s still on display at the New York Transit Museum. Most museums in New York are free, so it’s just a subway ride away to discover this incredible arch. The piece was originally mounted in the City Hall Station; that station closed in 1945, but the art was saved.
Commuters on the B or Q train heading into Manhattan can feast their eyes on 228 panels designed by Bill Brand. First installed in the 1980’s, these panels have become a staple for New Yorkers. Similar to a child’s flash book in which images appear to move in stop motion, Brand’s pieces have the same function but on a completely different level. It happens so quickly that you need to pay close attention; it operates as a secret story unfolding just for you.
At the Union Square Station, commuters have plenty of time to stop and admire six patriotic eagles. Installed by Mary Miss in 1998, these eagles were originally intended for the first stages of construction in 1904. They’re understated upon first glance and warrant a closer inspection. Slow down and have a close look at New York’s original art, now well over 100 years old.
The Stop and Stare Lot
Jacob Lawrence’s famous “New York in Transit” can be found in the Times Square/42nd Street Station. It’s massive and can’t be missed, but deserves more than a passing glance. It was Lawrence’s last piece, completed posthumously at the turn of the century. Colorful, a touch abstract and with a size that New York deserves, it perfectly captures the hustle and bustle of the underground.
New York isn’t only known for fast commutes and busy trains, though. Take a trip to the Lexington Avenue/59th Street Station to visit Elizabeth Murray’s “Blooming.” Created with tile, it’s her 1996 homage to the coffee culture of the city. Trees blooming amidst a steaming cup of coffee transports Central Park, and all other parks in the city, effortlessly to the underground.
These are just a few of the underground treasures in New York. With hundreds of pieces available, try unplugging the iPod and looking up from the paper; you might be missing out on a masterpiece. Checking your email about the new website cost is important, but so is taking the time to appreciate the beauty around you.
Adrienne Erin is a writer and amateur artist interested in the technical side of the artistic world. Follow her on Twitter at @adrienneerin to see what she’s up to right now.
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