Subway Station Art: World Trade Center and Chambers Street Stations

I recently wrote about the Oculus, MTA’s new transportation hub located next to the World Trade Center site. But there is actually an art installation that predates this transportation hub that is also titled the Oculus – and it is located nearby, in the World Trade Center, Chambers Street, and Park Place subway stations. This art project began with the efforts of photographers Kristen Jones and Andrew Ginzel, who photographed the eyes of hundreds of New Yorkers. Then, artist Rinaldo Piras recreated the eyes in stone mosaics.

There are 300 unique eyes scattered throughout the connected subway stations, and it’s a fun challenge to hunt them down. (Amazingly, the mosaics were hardly disturbed in the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.) I love this description of the Oculus by the artists, found on MTA Art & Design’s website: “Oculus was created to personalize and integrate the stations. Eyes are both subtle and strong – they engage passing individuals, allowing for meditation or inviting dialogue.”

Here are a few of my favorites.

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The installation also includes a large floor mosaic, which includes an eye in the center with a world map that extends outwards. It’s not easy to photograph, but here’s my best attempt.

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If you’d like to see the Oculus installation yourself, it is easily accessible at several subway stations. Take the E to the World Trade Center station, the A or C to the Chambers Street station, or the 2 or 3 to the Park Place station.

Subway Station Art: Lexington Avenue/53rd Street Station

For those interested in abstract art, the Lexington Avenue/53rd Street subway station offers a real treat: mosaic murals created by Brooklyn-born artist Al Held. Titled “Passing Through,” what makes this art even more special is that it was one of Held’s last works, designed in 2004 but actually finished after his death in 2005.

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The MTA Arts & Design website contains the following description of “Passing Through”:

The colorful and exuberant mural reveals an immense universe in which geometric elements of varying shapes and sizes float freely. In the 1960s, Held moved from abstraction to tightly controlled geometric work, with two-dimensional figures suspended on the canvas. Held was curious about how everything is structured and was inspired by theories about the universe and its mysteries. He described his interest in “images that we believe in but that are beyond our senses and that we can never experience directly.” There is also another subject, that of buildings and architecture. His imagery powerfully evokes New York City’s contemporary energy while acknowledging the forms and styles of the Midtown skyscrapers overhead.

The mosaics are colorful, brightening up a corridor that otherwise would seem dull and dreary. The undulating walls upon which the glass mosaic tiles are fixed really add to the visual effect.

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Want to view “Passing Through” for yourself? Take the E or M train to the Lexington Avenue/53rd Street station, and follow the signs towards the Lexington Avenue exit. (If you exit towards Third Avenue, you will miss the mosaics.) You will know you are headed in the right direction if the signs also show that you are headed towards the 6 train. The mosaics are located on the mezzanine level. If you are traveling on the 6 train, get off at the 51st Avenue station. That station connects underground to the Lexington Avenue/53rd Street station.

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.

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.

Subway Station Art – Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue Station

Visitors to the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue train station in Brooklyn are in for a real treat – artist and theater director/designer Robert Wilson’s art installation, My Coney Island Baby (2003). Wilson explored archival images of Coney Island’s holiday trip and amusement park history in his screen-printed works, which span a glass brick wall stretching approximately 370 feet along one side of the station.

The station is entirely above ground, as the subway lines are elevated in this part of Brooklyn. The glass wall brings a lot of light into the station, drawing visitors’ attention to Wilson’s colorful and imaginative images.

Some images show Coney Island’s long history as an entertainment destination, with its amusement parks and carnival-style “freak” shows.

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Others show delightful vintage shots of life in a beach town.

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I particularly loved this sweet image of children surrounding a float ring, possibly swimming in the ocean or lounging on the beach.

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Finally, there is a giant hot dog – the food most associated with Coney Island. In fact, you can visit the original location for Nathan’s Famous, which began selling hot dogs at Coney Island 100 years ago, in 1916, for only 5 cents each. Somehow this image doesn’t exactly fit with the style of the others, but it is still fun and part of Coney Island’s history. (Don’t expect a 5-cent hot dog from Nathan’s today though – the last time I checked the hot dogs ranged in price from $4.25 to $4.99, depending on toppings.)

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To get to the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue Station, take the D, F, N, or Q train. The art is on the ground level.

Subway Station Art – 8th Street Station

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The 8th Street subway station in New York City, located near New York University, offers some great subway art. A series of 40 mosaics, designed by artist Tim Snell, are scattered along the platforms in both directions. Snell, a Canadian artist who is now based in New York City, was inspired by local street scenes. Collectively, the mosaics are titled Broadway Diaries.

Here are some of my favorite mosaics from Broadway Diaries.

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The 8th Street station also has some great vintage mosaic directional signs that are not part of Broadway Diaries.

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You will even see both styles together.

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You can get to the 8th Street subway station on either the R or the N trains. The station is located on Broadway, with entrances at 8th Street and Astor Place.

Subway Station Art – Prince Street Station

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I periodically feature some of the public art found in New York City subway stations, a part of the MTA Arts & Design initiative. Today’s post is about one of my favorite subway stations, the Prince Street station. The art at this station is small in scale and easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it, but the more you look, the more there is to discover. The art installation at Prince Street, created by Brooklyn artist Janet Zweig in collaboration with Edward del Rosario, is titled Carrying On. The installation is a frieze which stretches for a total of 1200 feet, including both sides of the platform. It includes 194 characters in all, made of waterjet-cut steel, slate, and marble.

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One of the reasons why this art installation is so special is because it is based on photographs the artist took of real New Yorkers. That foundation gives each figure authenticity – you may recognize scenes that you’ve seen on the streets yourself.

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Another reason why I love this particular art installation is related to Zweig’s own explanation of the title, Carrying On. Here is that description, as taken from the artist’s website:

The title, Carrying On, is a triple pun. People on the streets of New York are almost always carrying something, sometimes something huge and outlandish. After the 9/11 tragedy in New York, New Yorkers felt that they must carry on with their lives. (The frieze was begun just before 9/11 and finished three years later.) Finally, New Yorkers are notoriously opinionated and lively; they really do “carry on.”

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If you ride the New York City subways very often, or for that matter walk the streets for very long, you are likely to see people carrying around large objects. I enjoy finding those individuals in the frieze as well.

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How do you get to this frieze? Take the R or the N to the Prince Street Station. Half of the frieze is located on each platform, so you will have the opportunity to explore it regardless of which direction you are traveling.

Subway Station Art – 28th Street Station

If you don’t travel by subway when you’re in New York City, you’re missing out on some great public art. We recently explored the mosaic hats of the 23rd Street subway station, but the next stop going uptown, the 28th Street Station, also has mosaic murals. The 28th Street murals, titled City Dwellers, are by artist Mark Hadjipateras. These are fun, whimsical murals, guaranteed to please adults and children alike.

Here are some photos of the murals you will see if you visit the 28th Street station. Don’t these like like they belong in a children’s fantasy storybook?

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If you want to see these murals, take the R train to the 28th Street station. There are murals on both platforms, so it really doesn’t matter which direction you are traveling. Note: This isn’t the only 28th Street station in New York City – there is also one on the 1 Line, and another on the 6 Line. Those other stations do not have the murals.

Subway Station Art – 23rd Street Station

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At first glance, the public art at the 23rd Street Station seems a little unusual. You may fly by on the subway, noticing a series of small hats scattered along the walls of the station platform. But the mosaics at this station are worth a second glance. In fact, I encourage you to get off the train and wander along the platform, looking more closely at each of the hats. The art at this station is called “Memories of 23rd Street,” and the artist is Keith Godard. As you explore the station further, you will discover that each hat is associated with a famous person who lived in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, the neighborhood located above ground from the station.

Here are some of my favorite hats, either because of their design or the people they were associated with. There are many more hats to explore when you visit though! Each hat has identifying information located below it near the bottom of the wall.

This one was really interesting – it’s associated with actress Sarah Bernhardt.

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And this one’s physicist Marie Curie’s.

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There’s this hat belonging to Harriot Blatch, a famous American suffragist and daughter of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

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And this one belonging to Eleanor Roosevelt. I love that she is identified as a humanitarian, rather than just being identified as first lady or President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife.

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The feathers on actress Lillie Langtry’s hat are pretty spectacular.

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And this is stunt person and journalist Nellie Bly’s hat.

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Here is famous artist Winslow Homer’s hat:

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This hat belonged to former fire commissioner, Robert Adamson.

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Here’s one for Samuel Gompers, the famous labor leader.

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And here’s a top hat for Phineas T. Barnum, museum owner and circus entrepreneur.

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This is an old fashioned policeman’s hat, belonging to Jake Harnett.

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And novelist Henry James’s rather crumpled looking hat.

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If you want to visit the station yourself, take the N, R (except late night), or Q (only late night) to 23rd Street. A note of caution – other lines (1, 4, 6,  C, and E) also have 23rd Street stations, but those stations are not the same one.

Subway Station Art – Delancey Street Station

The Delancey Street subway station, home to the F line on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is host to some beautiful mosaic murals by Chinese artist Ming Fay.

Located on the Manhattan-bound side at the Delancey Street station is a large mural titled “Delancey Orchard,” which contains several cherry trees. At one time the Delancey family owned a farm in the area that contained a cherry orchard, and this mural commemorates that history.

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If you walk along the platform on the Manhattan-bound side, you will also see small cherry mosaics that continue the orchard theme.

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On the Brooklyn-bound side, there is a mural of fish called “Shad Crossing.” Shad are a type of fish in local waterways around New York City.

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That motif is continued on one of the stairwells connecting the platform to the subway station’s mezzanine.

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There are also these small fish mosaics along the Brooklyn-bound platform.

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If you want to see Ming Fay’s mosaic murals, you can take the F train to Delancey Street. That station also connects to the Essex Street station, which is accessible from the J or Z trains. If you are interested in Ming Fay’s work, you may also want to visit the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Manhattan (the Whitehall Terminal), as he also designed the benches, a form of functional public art, in that terminal.