For New Yorkers who live and work on the east side of the island of Manhattan, the Second Avenue Subway line is a long-awaited commuting lifesaver. This new underground train line is the subway system’s first major expansion in 50 years. And when the new stations opened on January 1, locals were thrilled to discover that each one is home to exciting new examples of public art.
A Space for Public Art
Tracks, tunnels, and trains aren’t the only important parts of a New York City subway station. Since 1985, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Arts & Design program has made public art a fixture in more than 260 subway stations across the city. City officials commission these works, which the artists design to be site-specific. Each work reflects one of New York City’s vibrant, exciting neighborhoods.
In 2009, long before the Second Avenue line opened, the MTA Arts & Design program commissioned four artists to create mosaics that are a throwback to the early days of subway station design.
Art for Second Avenue
For the 72nd Street station, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz designed a series called “Perfect Strangers,” featuring 36 life-sized portraits of memorable characters waiting for the train. In addition to the group shown above, they include a policeman holding a Popsicle, a man dressed in a tiger suit, and a depiction of the artist himself, papers spilling from his briefcase. Muniz’s work is an homage to the fascinating people who populate the city and its subways.
Photographer and painter Chuck Close created a series of photorealistic tile mosaic portraits for the 86th Street station. The images, which are nearly nine feet high, demonstrate that “the richness of the city is all the various cultures coming together,” says Close.
Jean Shin’s “Elevated” installation in the 63rd Street station references photographs of New York City transit from the 1920s through the 1940s. Portraits of pedestrians and straphangers from the mid-20th century appear against a backdrop of the old elevated Second Avenue line. The work serves as a nostalgic reminder of how long New Yorkers have anticipated the opening of the new Second Avenue subway line.