The hustle and bustle of everyday life in New York isn’t limited to the outside, open air. Below tourist-trodden walkways are vast amounts of underground connections, with people hopping on and off every few seconds.
Over the past 30 years, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have commissioned and installed over 300 pieces of artwork across the five boroughs and commuter rail stations. From the most unusual, to the most subtle, New York’s stereotypical dark and dingy rail networks have been transformed into one of the world’s hidden treasures.
Here is a guide to some of the most spectacular, eye-opening artwork to look out for when you travel on the subway around New York.
Times Square – 42nd St- Times Sq
Times Square is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s busiest station, and it’s no wonder why! With dazzling neon lights of digital adverts on the side of buildings, the hub of Broadway Theatre District, and many of the best New York attractions close by, it’s one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections.
The subway that connects commuters to 42nd St in Times Square is host to five major artists, including pop-art extraordinaire Roy Lichtenstein. The 45-foot-long mural encompasses a combination of Art Deco, retro-futuristic and comic-book influence and is located high on the wall. Those who are walking through to visit the Empire State Building Observatory Deck won’t be able to miss this eye-popping piece of art.
The artwork of 20th Avenue is the creation of Mr Odili Odita and pays homage to the colour and atmosphere of the surrounding community. Based in a busy commercial district, the 40-piece glass panel represents the life, energy and movement that can be found at that particular location in New York. Odita is known for creating site-specific wall paintings and installations that use abstract colour patterns and visual memories of the location. A mixture of bold and pastel colours in diagonal lines form the vibrant artwork which symbolises the many individual elements it takes to compose a unified shape, in this case the surrounding community.
The neon lights don’t just stop at Times Square; in the depths of Bleecker St. Subway is the hexagon correlation artwork of Leo Villareal, named ‘Hive’. The LED sculpture takes the form of honeycomb to dramatically fill the large underground space. The ceiling above has been transformed into a disco-like atmosphere and is an inviting, welcoming piece of artwork for both tourists and residents of New York. The colours, ranging from pink and orange, to green and blue, move across the sculpture, illuminating the ceiling as you walk.
14th Street and 8th Avenue
Phil Desiere, tourist guide at Walk About New York says the subway artwork is his ‘museum at the core of the Big Apple.’ He explains: “The artwork surrounds the dashing locals every day, yet it goes unnoticed.”
Phil adds: “My favourite artwork is at the 14th Street and 8th Avenue stop on the A/C/E subway lines. Titled ‘Life Undergound’, these amazing bronze figures by Tom Otterness adds a touch of whimsy to New Yorkers’ lives underground.
Throughout the 14th Street and 8th Avenue subway stops are a series of 25 bronze sculptures installed by artist Tom Otterness. The artist’s sculpture impressions replicate what commuters see everyday whilst travelling the underground network, including subway cleaners sweeping rubbish from the floors, police officers patrolling the station and catching turnstile jumpers in the act. The subway art is a memorable tribute to the people of New York seen through the eyes of a fellow resident. Visitors can also get a feel as to how local commuters are seen by others around them.
Phil also says, “Another favourite is ‘Memories of 23rd Street’ by Keith Goddard; it is at the 23rd Street stop on N/R subway lines. Everyone calls it the Hat Stop, because the art displayed on the glass mosaic are hats that were worn by well-known people from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and both of these pieces can be seen on our tour one.”
‘Memories of Twenty-Third Street’ is the creation of Keith Goddard and represents an era of ladies fashion from the 1880s through to the 1920s in New York. During that time, 23rd Street was known locally as ‘Ladies Mile’ and Goddard set about creating a memorial of hats that inspirational celebrities of the time may have worn, such as Oscar Wilde, Jim Brady and Lillian Russell. As well as focusing on a nostalgic era of New York’s past, the artwork creates a witty and playful approach to today’s commuting experience.
Canal St. & Broadway
Blue and white tiles adorned with the artists’ imagination of Chinese iconography line the wall of Canal St. & Broadway subway. Bing Lee used the American merchant ship, Empress of China, as a starting point to commemorate trade between the U.S and Asia, whilst adding his own artistic impression to the piece. The ship returned to New York harbour in 1794 filled with silk, tea and china porcelain. As the Museum of Chinese in America isn’t too far from the station itself, this piece is a wonderful example of how the artwork below reflects the attractions to see above ground.
West 42nd St. & 8th Avenue
If you have invested in a New York Explorer Pass, which gives and your family flexibility to create your own bespoke New York itinerary from a list of 50 top attractions in the city, then you may just stumble across ‘Losing my marbles’. The mosaic artwork illustrates a colourful set of marbles falling off a chessboard; a visual delight for the children and for the adults! Lisa Dinhofer’s 32-foot long glass mosaic mural curves around the corners of the subway and creates a 3D effect for the lucky commuters passing by.
West 50th St. & Broadway
This simple yet glorious mosaic lining the walls of the subway close to Top of The Rock, is a story of Alice trying to find her way out of the underground space, with the help of her friends. There are several pieces to tell the tale running alongside the walkway, and it is a great spectacle for both the kids and adults. See if you can suss out the story of Alice, the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit as they scurry from one end to the other!
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Image Credit: Hard Seat Sleeper (flickr.com), Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York(Wikimedia Commons), Simon Law, SharonaGott (flickr.com), HorsePunchKid (wikimedia commons), Eden, Janine and Jim, David Dolphin (flickr.com)