Art in the Second Avenue Subway Stations
On Labor Day weekend I went for a tour of the art on the Second Avenue Subway, which had stops along the 96th Street, 86th Street, 72nd Street and 63rd Street stations on Second Avenue. Out tour guide, Paul, runs a tour company called Walk About New York, and provided a very interesting perspective of the art in these stations, which opened in 2017.
I learnt that there is a 1% rule for subway art, where the MTA dedicates 1% of the budget for a subway station renovation or construction to art at the station, which explains all the fabulous subway art that is being unveiled in New York, such as Nick Cave’s fabulous mosaics at the Times Square subway station.
Paul had an iPad on which he kept showing us the art in various stages of completion, as well as these pictures of the subway line actually under construction, which I found fascinating.
We started our tour at the 96th Street station, where the porcelain tile art by Sarah Sze is titled Blueprint for a Landscape. The artist wanted to recreate the wind tunnel effect that is created by a subway train entering and leaving the station, so her art looks like it is in perpetual motion. The only art we got to see at the subway entrances was at 96th Street and 63rd Street so this whole trip was one subway ride instead of needing to swipe back in at every station.
What is really interesting is that in between all the New York landmarks, Sarah has included the Colosseum and the Pantheon in multiple places.
We then took the train to the 86th Street station, which had portraits of various people, all friends of the artist, by Chuck Close. Chuck Close was paralyzed in 1988, so he made these with a paint brush strapped to his wrist. Here’s a picture on the tour guide’s iPad of Chuck Close creating the pieces I am sharing below.
This one below is a self portrait of Chuck Close, it is a stained glass micro mosaic. The level of detail such as the facial hair is completely astounding.
Here are some of his other pieces at the 86th Street station –
Here are the pieces under production at the studio –
We then moved on to the 72nd Street station, which has a series of glass mosaics called Self Portraits by Vik Muniz. All his pieces had some humor, here is a self portrait below. The artist had originally wanted the papers falling out of his briefcase to be miniature versions of all the self portraits at the subway station, but that became too complicated to pull off.
There were pictures submitted for these self portraits, and we got to see all the pictures that translated really well to these mosaics. The one that has become the most well known is of these two guys holding hands as it is the first gay representation in subway art.
Here are some of the others. The policeman is the artist’s son, and yes that is a popsicle in his hand. Can you spot chef Daniel Boulud in the pictures?
The last stop was 63rd Street station, which has artwork titled Elevated by Jean Shin. The artwork at this station was a throwback to the elevated train lines that used to exist in the 1930s in New York, and she used old photographs as inspiration to create the artwork in as a glass mosaic. She chose this time period as it was when the idea of a Second Avenue line was first floated, though it only came to fruition in 2017 after 10 years of construction. The blue skies represent the space that opened up when the elevated train lines were dismantled, and the people in the artwork are all replicas of photographs from the 1930s.
At the street level, the mosaics are all like the elevated structures used to be –
All in all I am glad to have had the opportunity to understand this art better as I have crossed it often while using this the Second Avenue Subway.