New York Subway: You Can Find World-Class Art There

6:48 am  |  24.11.2021

New York has a collection of world-class museums, unlike any other city. Be it the Metropolitan, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the list went on and on. The metropolis is a hub of the international art trade and the highest quality creations are for sale in the galleries. In auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, paintings and sculptures are auctioned that sometimes sell for millions.

But not only in the institutions, but also in public spaces, but there is also art in impressive quantity and quality. The subway system in particular comes up with impressive works, the effect of which is often reinforced by the ultimate urban environment.

In the individual stations, you will find a variety of works: from works by renowned artists such as Roy Lichtenstein or Sol LeWitt, which would be worth millions on the art market, to works by school children. This “underground” art is as varied as New York.

The money, including for art, is largely available thanks to the “1 Percent for Art” law. This law was passed 30 years ago and states that for all public construction projects – including the renovation of subway stations – one percent of the budget must be spent on art.

The Second Avenue Subway, the most expensive subway route of all time, which was opened 4 years ago, was really good.

Roy Lichtenstein – Times Square Mural – 1994

Times Square Station (subway lines 1, 2, 3, N, Q, R, 7, S) – Manhattan.

A 16 meter long mosaic after a painting by Roy Lichtenstein, one of the most famous representatives of Pop Art. It shows the past of locomotion in New York and its future as the artist imagined it. The motifs range from the subway forerunners of the 19th century to the ultra-modern train-spaceship hybrids.

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Robert Wilson – My Coney Island Baby – 2004

Coney Island / Stillwell Avenue Station (D, F, N, Q subway lines) – Brooklyn.

The pioneering set designer Robert Wilson created this almost 100 meters long and over 5 meters high wall from glass bricks. The theme is the surrounding Coney Island, the legendary Atlantic beach and amusement park. The motifs – hot dog, roller coaster, carousel horse, children on the beach, and people on the beach promenade – all come from historical postcards.

Jack Beal – The Onset of Winter – The Return of Spring – 1999

Times Square Station (subway lines 1, 2, 3, N, Q, R, 7, S) – Manhattan.

Two mosaics with New York street scenes after paintings by Jack Beal (1931-2013). “The Return of Spring” shows people in front of an old subway kiosk. In “The Onset of Winter” people watch a movie while the first snowflakes fall.

Robert Kushner – Four Seasons – 2004

77st Street Station (Subway Line 6) – Upper East Side – Manhattan.

Robert Kushner is known for his opulent works with floral motifs. This mosaic shows Japanese-influenced depictions of flowers – a subject the artist deals with in many of his works, some of which can be found in the Museum of Metropolitan Art just a few hundred meters away.

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Sol LeWitt – Whirls and Twirls – 2009

Columbus Circle Station (Subway Lines 1, A, B, C, D) – Midtown – Manhattan.

The work of the famous concept artist creates a play of colors from 520 porcelain tiles. A slightly different version of this work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Elizabeth Murray – Blooming – 1996

59th Street Station (in the corridor between the platforms on subway lines 4, 5, 6, and N, R) – Midtown – Manhattan.

Elizabeth Murray is one of the very few women to whom the Museum of Modern Art has dedicated its own retrospective. Her “Blooming” mosaic covers all four walls of a corridor connecting two subway lines. The title is ambiguous. It stands for blooming but is also a reference to Bloomingdale’s department store, which is located above the station. Lines from poems by the American poets Delmore Schwartz and Gwendolyn Brooks flow from coffee cups and shoes.

Al Loving – Brooklyn, New Morning – 2001

Broadway / East New York (Broadway Junction) Station (J, Z, L, A, C subway lines) – Brooklyn.

The lead glass work on an above-ground mezzanine consists of 75 colored discs with spirals and other geometric patterns through which natural light shines. Loving, who died four years after completion, was an abstract artist whose work can be found in the Metropolitan Museum and Whitney Museum.

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Tom Otterness – Life Underground – 1994

8th Avenue & 14th Street Station (subway lines A, C, E, L) – Chelsea – Manhattan

“Life Underground” is one of the most playful and popular subway works of art in New York. The work consists of more than 140 figures. The overarching theme, according to creator Tom Otterness, is the impossibility of understanding the city. Some motifs have comic characters like the crocodiles, which – according to an old city legend – crawl out of the sewer and snatch passers-by, others can be seen as social commentaries, like the rich man with a top hat and money bag. Some of the characters were inspired by the work of the German-American cartoonist and satirist Thomas Nast (1840-1902).

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