Few New Yorkers would accuse the city’s sprawling, crowded subway system of being under-stimulating. But some NYC subway stations have more vibrant and surprising elements than others — and no, we’re not talking about the Showtime buskers. Read on to discover nine of our favorite examples of NYC subway art.
William Wegman’s Dogs Stand Guard at West 23rd Street
The recently reopened F and M station at West 23rd Street now features updated security cameras, guardrails, and glass doors, as well as a set of quirky murals by Chelsea artist William Wegman. The works put his famous Weimaraners right in among the station’s commuters, sporting real people clothes. To produce the works, Wegman photographed the dogs and then enlisted the help of the German mosaic fabricator Franz Mayer of Munich to translate the images into tile — a process that took more than six months to complete.
Yoko Ono Brings Blue Skies Underground at West 72nd Street
Yoko Ono is a cherished local hero. She has resided on the Upper West Side for decades; has spearheaded public monuments to her husband, John Lennon; and has performed from time to time at venues downtown. As of October 2018, you can find her art at the West 72nd Street B and C station just below the Dakota, where she lives. The artwork is comprised of six mosaic panels throughout the station, which feature blue skies and clouds, as well as quintessential Ono messages like “Imagine Peace” and “Dream.”
Chuck Close Sits Front and Center at East 86th Street
You don’t need a ticket to the Whitney to experience an iconic Chuck Close portrait. Just make sure to stop at the East 86th Street and Second Avenue station, where Close has installed a dozen eye-catching works. When the designs were first unveiled in 2017, many reporters noted that subway-goers were so enamored with the works that they were reaching out to touch the smooth tiling — an art-viewing experience that can only be had in the subway.
Take in the LEDs at Bleecker Street
If you’re preoccupied with your phone, you’ll miss the impressive sculpture hanging inside the Bleecker Street station. In 2012, this lattice of color-shifting LEDs was installed at the B, D, F, M, and 6 station, and it’s been keeping riders entertained ever since. The dynamic work was created by Leo Villareal, who lives and works in New York City.
Head Under the Sea at West 81st Street
Echoing the biodiversity on display at the American Museum of Natural History just aboveground, the walls of the West 81st Street B and C station feature prehistoric creatures scampering around, and underwater scenes in an array of materials. Granite, ceramic tiles, bronze, and hand-cast glass tiles come together to create vibrant ecosystems.
A Dose of Comedic Relief at West 14th Street
The sculptures of Tom Otterness liven up the 14th Street A, C, and E station with vignettes of his signature bronze cast figures. In one, an alligator emerges from a grate, while in another, a miniature New Yorker patiently waits for a train holding a giant bag of money.
Going Down the Rabbit Hole at West 50th Street
Descending down into the subway can feel all too similar to Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole — once you enter, you’re never quite sure what you’ll run into. The 50th Street 1 train station features terra cotta renderings of Alice and friends, painted and pieced together by the Argentinian artist Liliana Porter.
A More Poetic Way to Vent About the Subway at Times Square
The misery of navigating the crowded tunnel that connects the Broadway and 8th Avenue subway lines at West 42nd Street is echoed by the overhead installation of the poem “The Commuter’s Lament, or A Close Shave.” Norman B. Colp’s poem is broken up into short pieces, which only take a glance to process:
Why the pain?
Just go home
Do it Again.
A little bleak, right? Several years ago, a pair of college students tried to lighten the mood, changing some of the sentences to reflect a more optimistic attitude. New York City cynicism prevailed, however, and the original words were restored.
Visit a Mini Brooklyn Museum Underground at Eastern Parkway
Don’t have time to spend a whole afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum? You can get a sampling of its incredible collection at the Eastern Parkway station directly beneath the museum. Since 2001, architectural ornaments — gargoyles, intricate molding, and busts — have lined the station’s exit.
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