4 Fun Facts about Subway Art in New York

If you want to see great art in New York for a paltry two dollars fifty and virtually whizzing by, you should definitely buy this ticket:

Metrocard New York

This is a Metrocard. With it and a hearty swipe you can get on the New York subway. And thus basically into the museum. Many subway stations have cartoon hearts scribbled in the art-loving peepholes: colorful, strange, and insincere things to pass the time until the next train arrives. Here are four fun facts about art in the New York subway system.

1. Torn out of the museum: Art superstars hide underground

Ever heard of Roy Lichtenstein? Na? The pop art star with his red-yellow-blue-black-white comic scenes? One of his last works hangs not at MoMA, but underground. At Times Square in the intermediate passage of the subway namely.

Roy Lichtenstein Times Square

"Times Square Mural" has been emblazoned there since 2002; Lichtenstein made the collage for it as early as 1990, when he had reached an agreement with the New York transit authority. But the artist saw his work only on paper. His heirs handed over the design and instructions in 2002 – making it probably the last of Lichtenstein's works to be completed. But that is by no means the end of the story.

The good man is not the only one to sink a big name into the New York underground. Also

  • four-time documenta participant Sol Lewitt( 59th Street/Columbus Circle ),
  • the art circus director Eric Fischl( Penn Station ),
  • the theater guru Robert Wilson( Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue )
  • and the bamboo brothers Mike and Doug Starn( South Ferry )

Have successfully applied for a contract from the New York City Transit Authority MTA.

2. More for the money: The subway line with the most artwork

More than 200 works of art can be admired in the New York subway: Mosaic tiles, stained glass windows or special tiles sparkle in the walls, sculptures spread across the platform and stairs or dangle from the ceiling, metal silhouettes merge with the bars.

You'll encounter art almost everywhere in New York's underground labyrinth, not just in Manhattan but also in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Along the red, blue, green, yellow, orange, brown, purple, and gray lines, "hop on, hop off" trains for art tourists rumble 24 hours a day. Winning route by the number of stations where subway art can be seen: line 2.

Subway art on the line 2 in New York

There is art in 39 stations along this subway route. Among others

    (see photo) by Elizabeth Grajales (34th Street),
  • the "Harlem Timeline" by Willie Birch (135th Street) and
  • George Trakas (Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center) with "Hook (Archean Reach), Line (Sea House), and Sinker (Mined Swell)".
  • And of course in Times Square Roy Lichtenstein (see Fun Fact no. 1).

3. Particularly well hidden: above-ground subway art in New York

From a ventilation grate in Times Square, more precisely on Broadway between 45th and 46th Street, comes not the typical mixture of strange smell and subway clatter, but a sound that hovers somewhere between an angelic harp and a vacuum cleaner.

The strange sounds come from an installation by sound artist Max Neuhaus that has been hiding under the grating at this location since 1977. "Times Square" is its simple name, and in keeping with the now deceased artist's wishes, it can be heard around the clock. You have to get really close to it, though, so: up onto the grating. It costs nothing.

4. The ravages of time: subway decorations existed before (just differently)

Even when the first subway line was built in New York, the idea of decorating the stops traveled with it. Even today you can see the names and numbers of many stations as a pretty, sometimes colorful mosaic in the tiled wall.

Mosaic in the New York subway

Graffiti spilled into the subway tunnels as the next wave of art. Spray cans were used by all sorts of people to decorate the outside of trains, and it wasn't long before Keith Haring had scribbled his little men all over the inside of a train car as well. Hordes of taggers followed him with their felt-tip pens and behaved as if they wanted to prove old people right that graffiti was just graffiti after all. About how the subways in New York looked at the time, Designboom recently reported picture-rich:

By the way, this look was one reason why the MTA set up an extra department for art in 1985 with " Arts for Transit " – and still sets aside a lot of money for it today. The idea behind it: If the stops are nice, people will behave, too.

How well it works? Another quick way to find out during an art excursion through the New York City subway system.

Still not enough of the subway art in New York? I'm writing an ongoing series about this: Here are always new stories about individual subway stations .