A photo of an empty New York City subway car.

Photo courtesy of NYCUrbanScape at Flickr Creative Commons.

“Any child who has never walked into a museum or an art gallery can walk the streets of New York and be exposed to art and education simply by being a New Yorker.” Stirring words from the Governor of New York himself, Andrew Cuomo.

On Monday, December 19th, Cuomo presided over the unveiling of the new art installation in the Second Avenue Subway, two weeks ahead of the subway’s own opening on January 1st.

It’s a proud statement, and for this, he has every right to be proud. The four stations of the new subway will together be the state’s largest permanent public art installation. Each features art by an internationally renowned artist. They are:

  • Sarah Sze with “Blueprint for a Landscape” at 96th street.
  • Chuck Close with “Subway Portraits” at 86th street.
  • Vik Muniz with “Perfect Strangers” at 72nd street.
  • Jean Shin with “Elevated” at 63rd street.

All four artists have done wondrous things with mosaics. Muniz and Close covered their walls in people, making portraits of friends, strangers, and historical figures in tile and glass. Muniz’s characters look like they might interrupt your conversation, photo-realistic at a distance and large as life. Close’s works are enormous portraits, looking amiably over the anticipated crowds.

Sze’s idea for the station is more abstract. Her space is tiled in blue and white, blueprints whirling into music and into birds and back.

Shin’s choices were to specifically call out the history of New York and its subways, and she collaborated with glass and mosiac artists to illustrate archival images of what came before this new station: historical subway photographs and passengers, and other images of the history of New York transit.

There is art everywhere in New York’s subways. Some of it deliberate, some incidental, some of it coordinated, some haphazard. Books have been written on it, dozens. It is wonderful that the city saw the new subway line as important to honor with this type of large-scale, intense installation. Art for all, for the commuter, the schoolchild, and even the tourist.