Subway Station Art: Whitehall Street Station

I’ve written a number of posts about New York City’s great subway art, and the Whitehall Street Station, located at the southern tip of Manhattan, is yet another station with some great public art. Known as Passages, this exhibition by artist Frank Giorgini was commissioned by MTA Arts & Design in 2000. Giorgini specializes in making handmade ceramic tiles, and this exhibition illustrates his talents.

MTA’s website provides this description of Passages:

For the restoration of the Whitehall Street subway station, Frank Giorgioni designed elements in ceramic, stone and metal to blend with the historic fabric of the station, such as the original bands of mosaic tile work. The cityscape begin at the entrance of the station with a view of the city today and then travel backward through time, through the age of steamships, a montage of New Amsterdam, the arrival of the first settlers, and finally the era before European settlement, with Native American canoes and a marshland of flora and fauna. In another area, schools of fish are seen, in both two- and three-dimensional form, accompanying a mosaic of sea and sky. Railings in the area are in the form of cattails, capping Giorgioni’s homage to the past.

When you get off the train, you must walk up a flight of stairs to an intermediate landing. Make sure that you look around carefully on this level, as there is already interesting art to see. A lovely glass and ceramic tile mosaic mural, in tones of blue and white, are located behind a metal railing on this level.

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I didn’t realize that the metal bars in front of the seagulls looked like cattails until I read the description on MTA’s website. But if you look closer, you can see the cattail design on the top of the bars in this photo, with the seagulls behind it.

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If you don’t look closely, you may miss another piece of art in this location. See anything else in the photo above? Look closely at the bottom left corner, behind the bars. If you step up to the cat-tails and look down towards the steel beams below, you will see this metal fish sculpture.

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If you glance around, you will also see the station’s mosaic tile signs directing travelers for the correct platform. I always love these vintage signs!

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There’s an escalator that takes travelers from the intermediate landing to the upper mezzanine level. You will find original ceramic plaques depicting scenes from New York City history as the escalator carries you along. It’s a little difficult to capture good photos on a moving escalator, but here are a few of my favorites. It’s incredible to see the three-dimensional details Giorgini has created with these ceramic tiles. The ones I’ve shown show marshland before European arrival, explorer Henry Hudson’s ship the Half Moon, ferries, and skyscrapers next to Battery Park.

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To get to the Whitehall Street Station, take the R train to the southern tip of Manhattan. Nearby, you can catch the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island, stroll around Battery Park or take the boat to the Statue of Liberty, or even walk a short distance to the National Museum of the American Indian.

9 thoughts on “Subway Station Art: Whitehall Street Station

  1. I really love this series – have I said that before? In this post, I’m particularly taken with the presence of birds in each ceramic tile piece. I want more!

    And a question. Are these splendid bits of subway art ever graffitied?

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    1. So glad you are enjoying this series, Meg! It’s funny. I’ve gone through many of these stations many, many times. As a New Yorker, it’s easy to take this art for granted and quit paying attention to it. When I started writing this series, I really started appreciating it and looking for more. There are subway station’s I’ve never had a reason to go to before, but then I found out there was art there and had to go! I’ve got quite a few more stations to write about, with quite a variety of art, so you will be able to enjoy this series for some time. I’m happy to say that I’ve almost never seen graffiti on the art – people seem to respect it. Sometimes art has been damaged by water leaks or partially obscured by grime though.

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  2. Those historic tiles were built to last–even tagging wouldn’t do them in. I am glad you pointed out the cattails because I would have missed them. I really like the seagulls–I am being strongly influenced by the blue tiles.

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    1. I loved the shades of blue in the mosaic tiles as well. The seagulls are great – the appear randomly on the walls next to the elevators as well, in between the plaques. They really do add that feeling of being near the water, and then when you exit the station it is likely you will see real seagulls at battery park or next to the ferry terminal.

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