See the Second Avenue Subway’s Gorgeous New Chuck Close and Sarah Sze Art

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Chuck Close, Cecily Brown from his

Vik Muniz, Perfect Strangers (detail) at the 72nd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Vik Muniz

Vik Muniz, Perfect Strangers (detail) at the 72nd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Sarah Sze, Blueprint for a Landscape at the 96th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze, Blueprint for a Landscape (detail) at the 96th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Chuck Close, Lou Reed from his

Chuck Close

Chuck Close, Lou Reed from his “Subway Portraits” at the 86th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Jean Shin, Elevated (detail) at the 63rd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Jean Shin

Jean Shin, Elevated (detail) at the 63rd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Vik Muniz, Perfect Strangers (detail) at the 72nd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Vik Muniz

Vik Muniz, Perfect Strangers (detail) at the 72nd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Sarah Sze, Blueprint for a Landscape at the 96th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze, Blueprint for a Landscape (detail) at the 96th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Chuck Close, Cecily Brown from his

Chuck Close

Chuck Close, Cecily Brown from his “Subway Portraits” at the 86th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Jean Shin, Elevated (detail) at the 63rd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Jean Shin

Jean Shin, Elevated (detail) at the 63rd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Vik Muniz, Perfect Strangers (detail) at the 72nd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Vik Muniz

Vik Muniz, Perfect Strangers (detail) at the 72nd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Sarah Sze, Blueprint for a Landscape at the 96th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze, Blueprint for a Landscape (detail) at the 96th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Jean Shin, Elevated (detail) at the 63rd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo's office.

Jean Shin

Jean Shin, Elevated (detail) at the 63rd stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Chuck Close, Self Portrait from his

Chuck Close

Chuck Close, Self Portrait from his “Subway Portraits” at the 86th stop on the new 2nd Avenue subway line. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office.

Difficult as it may be to the believe, the long-awaited Second Avenue Subway, in the works since 1929, is due to start operation on January 1. In addition to a less crowded commute on Manhattan’s East Side, New Yorkers can expect to enjoy ambitious new contemporary art installations, which Governor Andrew Cuomo, at a press conference on December 19, called the “largest public art installation in New York history.”

The MTA Arts & Design department, headed by Sandra Bloodworth, enlisted Chuck Close, Sarah Sze, Vik Muniz, and Jean Shin to each create work for one of the four new stations being completed. Though it may seem unusual for art to be such a major part of the new line, it actually hearkens back to the early days of the subway, when new stations were carefully embellished with mosaics and other artistic touches. (There’s actually more subway art than you probably realize.)

“Every public artwork was also an educational experience,” Cuomo said about the way public art used to function in the city during the heyday of public buildings, which ended with Governor Nelson Rockefeller. “A child that never walked into a museum or never walked into an art gallery, [if] they just walked around the streets of New York, they would be exposed to art and education and culture just by being in New York. And that’d where New York came from and what made New York special.”

MTA chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast concurred with Cuomo. “There’s no doubt that the launch of these new stations represents an historic expansion of the system,” said Prendergast in a statement. “But it also represents a major milestone in terms of culture—the work of these four incredibly talented artists will provide a source of enjoyment, inspiration and beauty to both customers and visitors for decades to come.”

At 96th Street, Sze, the 2013 US representative at the Venice Biennale, has created nearly 4,000 unique porcelain tiles for the station walls, which feature a 14,000 square-foot mosaic titled Blueprint for a Landscape. The artist has used a different shade of blue at each entrance, creating images of loose sheets of paper, scaffolding, foliage, and other familiar items, all seemingly caught up in a gust of wind signaling an approaching train.

Close brings his signature photo-based portraits to 86th Street, where his grid-based composition lend themselves perfectly to ceramic tile mosaics. The series, titled “Subway Portraits,” features such important cultural figures as Kara Walker, Philip Glass, Alex Katz, Lou Reed, and Close.

The 72nd Street works by Muniz are inspired by the experience of commuting, where New Yorkers of all stripes stand side-by-side on the platform waiting for the train. The work, titled Perfect Strangers, includes mosaics of three dozen characters.

For her piece Elevated at the 63rd Street station, Shin has drawn on the city’s history of public transit, creating ceramic tile, glass mosaic, and laminated glass designs based on archival photographs of the old elevated subway lines on Second and Third Avenues.

Altogether, the new subway art came with a price tag of $4.5 million. The new line cost $4.45 billion overall in a much larger $100 billion plan to redevelop the infrastructure of the MTA, according to Prendergast.

Another fine point of the press conference was when Cuomo remembered the value of public works in New York during his childhood.

“I was growing up in Queens,” he said, “and in Queens what we had was the Unisphere, the World’s Fair. And as a young boy from Queens that was special.”

Additional reporting by Rozalia Jovanovic.

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