NYC’s Underground Museum: Subway Station Art at Times Square

As I’ve written about before on numerous occasions, New York City has a robust arts program throughout its subway system. (You can see those other posts by clicking the “Transportation” link on the right-hand side of the blog.) By far, the largest and most diverse collection of subway station art in the city is located at the Times Square-42nd Street station in Manhattan. In fact, the art offerings at this station qualify it as an underground museum in my estimation, worth the time it will take to meander all parts of the station to discover hidden gems.

So let me take you on a tour of this “underground museum.” First, be on the lookout for “Losing My Marbles,” a set of fun, colorful glass mosaic walls by artist Lisa Dinhofer. This artwork is located on the mezzanine level near the A/C/E platforms.

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Another glass mosaic mural, “New York in Transit,” is located over a stairwell connecting the mezzanine level to the N/Q/R platforms. The artist, Jacob Lawrence, came of age in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and is known for his pioneering contributions to documenting African-American history through art. The angles makes it hard to get good photos of the entire mural, as the glass tiles reflect the light, but I was able to get a good close-up photo.

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Nearby is this mural by iconic pop art artist Roy Lichtenstein, titled “Times Square Mural, 2002.” Once again, to spot this mural you have to look up!

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At the mezzanine level near the 7 train platform you will find two glass mosaic tile murals by artist Jack Beal, titled “The Onset of Winter” and “The Return of Spring.” These murals portray scenes of vintage New York City life near the subway station.

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In a corridor between the 1/2/3/ and S platforms you will find 35 small vibrant ceramic panels by artist Toby Buonagurio. This installation is titled “Times Square Times: 35 Times.” Here are a few of my favorites.

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In the corridors connecting the A/C/E platforms to the rest of the Times Square-42nd Street station, there a series of more than 60 glass mosaic works by artist Jane Dickson called “The Revelers.” The mosaics bring the spirit of New Year’s Eve at Times Square underground. Here are a few of my favorites.

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Finally, there is this unique installation, a poem written by Norman B. Colp titled “The Commuter’s Lament,” or “A Close Shave.” In creating this installation, Colp drew inspiration from vintage roadside advertising campaigns by a company called Burma-Shave, which had catchy slogans printed on a series of signs along the side of roads. You’ll find “The Commuter’s Lament” in a long corridor near the A/C/E platform. Make sure you look up as you walk – otherwise you’ll miss the lines of the poem as they are attached to ceiling beams. It’s not in the most pristine condition, as it’s been up since 1991, but it is still a lot of fun.

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Here is the full text of “The Commuter’s Lament”:

Overslept,

So tired.

If late,

Get fired.

Why bother?

Why the pain?

Just go home

Do it again.

The tone of the poem has been controversial, as some people believe that Colp was too negative about life in New York City. For most New Yorkers though, it realistically expresses the often tiring daily commute in a wry, yet humorous way. (I fall into the second category, by the way!)

The Times Square station is large and sprawling, with platforms connected by ramps, stairways, and long corridors stretching multiple city blocks underground. Taking any of these trains will get you there: the A, C, E, N, Q, R, 1, 2, 3, 7, or S (shuttle). Technically, the A, C, and E station is the 42nd Street-Port Authority Bus Terminal station, but it is fully connected to the Times Square station.

23 thoughts on “NYC’s Underground Museum: Subway Station Art at Times Square

  1. This is terrific. Hurray for the NYC urban culture that makes politicians want to support this kind of program. Toronto’s subway art is pitiful in contrast — but if ever you’re in Montreal, spend some serious time in their sprawling Métro system. You’ll enjoy yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t mind being underground (unless there’s a heatwave outside, as it makes the subway stations unbearable). Subway stations tend to be pretty grimy places though, at least in New York City, and there is something so special about stumbling upon art to brighten the day. This particular station I often dread because it is packed with tourists, but when I remember the art I’m excited to visit it again. (Not that I’m anti-tourist, but they sometimes forget that regular New Yorkers have jobs to get to!)

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  2. I had no idea that there was a Jacob Lawrence mural in the subway. I loved his “Migration” exhibition at the MOMA last year. Thanks for the find!

    Also, I remember seeing “The Commuter’s Lament” when I first moved to NYC and laughing so hard. One of my favorites.

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    1. The Jacob Lawrence mural is beautiful in person – very hard to capture with a camera though because of where the overhead lights are located. I love “The Commuter’s Lament” too. It’s so funny that no one notices it. Even with me stopping and photographing it, most people couldn’t figure out what I was doing. It sounds so resigned, so much how New Yorkers really are about their commute!

      I’m really enjoying your blog as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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