Underground beauty

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Manhattan’s new golden age of subway art


  • William Wegman’s Weimaraner dogs, Flo and Topper, are new additions to the 23rd Street F and M train station that reopened in November after extensive renovations. Photo: Patrick J. Cashin/Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Ask any New Yorker, and you’ll be told — with varying levels of annoyance, resignation or fury — that service on the city’s subway system leaves much to be desired.

But at least there’s something nice to look at while you wait for your train.

While 2018 was another year of subway malaise, one silver lining was a continued influx of brilliant station art commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Straphangers were dazzled by new art in several stations that reopened in 2018 after comprehensive renovations. In September, riders entering the World Trade Center station at Cortlandt Street for the first time since the 9/11 attacks were met with a poignant reminder of the site’s past in the form Ann Hamilton’s immense yet ethereal marble mosaic “CHORUS,” which features text from the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Further north, playful images of William Wegman’s pet Weimaraners now gaze expectantly upon the 23rd Street platform that reopened in November, as if hopeful each passing commuter will hand over a dog treat. Yoko Ono’s placid blue skies on the walls of the recently renovated B and C train station at 72nd Street and Central Park West implore passengers to “Remember Love.”

Along with permanent installations came unexpected delights, like the career-spanning photos of David Bowie that plastered the walls of the Broadway-Lafayette Street station for several weeks last spring, or the fans who spontaneously and illicitly renamed Franklin Street station to “Aretha” Franklin Street following the soul singer’s death in August. (The MTA erased the graffiti, but later added a permanent banner to the platform walls reading “Respect” in tribute to Franklin.)

These works built upon on the artistic momentum of 2017, which saw the debut of large-scale pieces in each of the new Second Avenue subway stations — carrying on New York’s proud tradition of public art in public transit.

MTA Arts & Design commissions site-specific works in new and newly restored stations through a competitive selection process judged by panels of arts and design professionals. The agency is now in the process of selecting finalists to design proposals for new art in the First Avenue and Bedford Avenue L train stations, which will close for 15 months beginning this spring to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

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