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January 2nd, 2004, 05:07 AM
January 2, 2004


The Rush-Hour Revelations of an Underground Museum


A mosaic at Sheridan Square (Christopher Street) showing Washington Square in the background.

NEW YORK CITY'S great subway system has many benefits. While getting millions of people where they need to go each day with a minimum of logistical fuss and environmental muss, it also serves as a great humanizing, socializing force. After all, spending time in the company of strangers is one of the earth's oldest, most direct and stimulating forms of education. Travel is broadening, as they say, and New Yorkers can learn a good bit about the world simply by exercising their right to a $2 ride. The experience, formative to natives, transformative to later arrivals, encourages tolerance, curiosity and creativity, basic ingredients of cosmopolitanism.

Over the last two decades New York's subway system, one of the largest and most heavily used in the world, has expanded its benefits, subjecting its vast apparatus, and its riders, to an extreme makeover costing about $31 billion. It has entailed rehabilitation, replacements and additions on all fronts: tracks, cars, mechanical systems and stations, both inside and out. In tandem with this, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Arts for Transit division has created, literally, its own artistic underground. Since its founding in 1985, Arts for Transit has installed nearly 140 works (and counting) of public art in stations throughout its labyrinthine 722-mile system.

It's hard to grasp the enormousness of this project without going out and trying to see quite a bit of it. (I managed somewhat more than half.) It is the Works Progress Administration all over again, or the exact opposite of André Malraux's "museum without walls." That is, a museum with miles of them, as well as — for the most part — harsh lighting and no closing hours.

Venturing into the subways in search of new art is like eavesdropping on a classic New York argument that has no resolution but plenty of ammunition and passion on both sides. Such a tour provides a panoramic view of the course of public art since an outcry caused the removal of Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc" sculpture from Federal Plaza, and the culture wars raged. Paradoxically Mr. Serra has become something of a Pied Piper of Modernist sculpture, making works that attract crowds; and diversity, accessibility and accountability have now become catchwords.

Sometimes large, sometimes small, the art in the subway system includes murals of glass, ceramic or stone mosaic; windows and walls of stained glass; sculpture; and forays into Conceptual art and installation art, all permanent. They have been made by artists known and unknown from all corners of the New York art world and beyond. For better and sometimes for worse, this underground reflects the subway's vibrant social reality: it is a fascinating exercise in artistic democracy.

I grew up in Kansas and fell in love with the subways on the first day of my adult life in New York. After years of untold subway time — spent watching, listening, reading — I would say that large, active systems of mass transit are the main difference between the red and the blue states of the 2000 electoral map (California excepted). People who travel only by private car — most of America — can too easily stick to their own kind and cling to their prejudices and misconceptions without the threat of contradictory experiences.

The artworks sponsored by Arts for Transit are not without contradictions of their own. So far they include modest additions, like Susan Tunick's discreet glazed terra cotta murals at the PROSPECT PARK and PARKSIDE AVENUE stations on the Q train in Brooklyn. But there are also dynamic large-scale works, among them a stunning bit of modern-day Byzantium by Elizabeth Murray: "Blooming," a bright mosaic paean to the workaday world that includes pink and green trees, a pair of enormous high heels and a colossal yellow cup of coffee. It covers every square inch of a large transfer area at 59TH STREET AND LEXINGTON AVENUE, where the 4, 5 and 6 lines and the N and the R cross. (There is a second Murray mural, "Stream," as good as this one if spread a bit thin, in an enormous passageway at 23RD STREET-ELY AVENUE in Queens.)

From Beavers to Stars

The subway system has never been an art-free zone, as demonstrated by the many neo-Classical-style mosaics and plaques that remain from the original Heins & LaFarge designs of the first IRT stations, which began opening in 1904. Site-specificity was always cultivated, too. The evidence includes the glazed terra cotta reliefs, descended from the della Robbia of Florence, of beavers at ASTOR PLACE. (The Astor family fortune was derived from beaver pelts.)

Other examples are tile reliefs that repeat along the track walls at UNION SQUARE (a bucolic village relief), GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL (a steaming locomotive) and 125TH STREET (a steel-girder bridge) on the 4, 5 and 6 lines.

As the lines expanded and styles changed, a measure of continuity was always pursued, and still is. The mosaics and plaques took on an Arts and Crafts simplicity in the 1918 BMT stations and were further streamlined for the IND in 1930.

Arts for Transit has overseen extensive restorations and replications of original mosaic borders and allowed some tweaking by individual artists. But in its commissioned artworks it appears to have strived for diversity more than continuity. The organization's director, Sandra Bloodworth, says it has done so by varying its selection process, alternating between open calls and inviting specific artists to submit proposals to professional panels. Community planning boards are almost always involved in the decisions.

The results are a mixture of grassroots and establishment, professional and amateur. Invited artists have included Roy Lichtenstein and Jacob Lawrence at TIMES SQUARE, Romare Bearden at WESTCHESTER SQUARE-EAST TREMONT AVENUE in the Bronx and Eric Fischl at 34th STREET-PENN. STATION. At the same time Keith Goddard, a designer selected in an open call, is responsible for the charming mosaics of historically correct hats recently completed at 23RD STREET on the N and R lines.

In the M.T.A.'s long tradition of in-house design, the Arts for Transit division, which is mostly artists, has also participated directly by designing the artworks for the station at 81ST STREET AND CENTRAL PARK WEST. This multimedia portrayal of constellations, dinosaur skeletons and the ocean floor heralds your arrival at the doorstep of the American Museum of Natural History, but it is also cluttered. Too many cooks.

A partial tour of subway art will articulate a host of issues, not only old versus new, but also art versus design, public use versus personal expression, and local versus general. You may also learn that mosaic is as fabulously supple and responsive to touch and personality as oil paint, and as humbling. Not every painter's style, no matter how celebrated, benefits from translation.

So far the stained-glass works have not demonstrated a similar variety. They are especially monotonous in the stations and platforms on the elevated tracks, although Yumi Heo's urban scenes in the 33RD, 40TH AND 46TH STREET stations of the 7 line along Queens Boulevard and Verna Hart's jazz musicians at the Myrtle Avenue station on the J, M and Z lines reward attention.

Bigger Is Better

The art that best holds its own against the power and bustle of the subway is for the most part big and colorful, architecturally protected and encountered as you change lines or enter and leave stations. Some pieces, like the Murray mural at Lexington Avenue, literally have rooms of their own.

Others are overhead: Lichtenstein's muscular Art Deco send-up at Times Square and Lawrence's glass mosaic nearby. "Under Bryant Park," Samm Kunce's somewhat hammy tour de force, turns a long passageway in the 42ND STREET-FIFTH AVENUE station into a journey through the earth's strata.

Frank Leslie Hampton's "Uptown New York" treats commuters to a sweeping view of classic New York rooftops on the mezzanine at the TREMONT AVENUE station at the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The mosaics' glass and stone elements are scaled and arranged to denote the brick facades of buildings.

On a mezzanine at the TIMES SQUARE entrance at Seventh Avenue and 41st Street, Jack Beal's "Coming of Spring" can stop you in your tracks. The exaggerated light and heightened color of Mr. Beal's Neo-Mannerist realism may actually work better in mosaic than in oil paint.

On the Platforms

The most successful pieces largely steer clear of the platforms, where shallow space, linear design and relentless repetition of tiling, columns, tracks and the trains themselves create a true tunnel vision that quashes most deviations.

Too often the platform walls have simply been treated as a white ground on which anything of any image or shape can be added — pictorial equivalent of plop-art public sculpture. Many of these works look cute for about a New York minute, but they are as essential to the subway system as tattoos are to the body.

On the platforms proper nothing beats the old mosaic borders and signs, except for the brighter new versions. Take the sparkling fields of light green and yellow green mosaic, edged in deep red, that repeatedly set off the white letters of Brooklyn BOTANIC GARDEN at its station on the S line. At the CANAL STREET station on the N, R, Q and W lines, the artist Bing Lee has designed dazzling new borders that acknowledge the neighborhood's population with Chinese characters and a palette of deep red, Persian blue and celadon.

At 42ND STREET the IND streamlining continues on the walls beside the tracks. Big white-tile 42's repeat along a broad band of blue tiles, changing elevations like notes on a musical score. Parts of the numbers are white-on-white but still legible, creating the optical thrill that is basic to effective graphic design.

Borders aside, a few platform murals do succeed. Flanking the station's central stairs and facing one another across the platform, the four large glass-mosaic murals of Louis Delsarte's "Transitions" look stunning against the new white tile of the renovated CHURCH AVENUE station on the 2 and 5 lines in Brooklyn. Like many of the new subway murals, their depictions of people strolling along sidewalks and the costumed figures of the Caribbean Day Parade hark back to American Scene painting. But these don't feel dated, and their subtly tilted perspective — as if seen from a second-story window — gives them added thrust.

Where Subtlety Prevails

Some art on the platforms succeeds by exercising discretion. At the 66TH STREET stop of the 1 and 9 lines, Nancy Spero's "Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers" isolates attenuated figures along the walls, engaging expanses of white tile and using to good advantage the wainscoting and repeating pilasters that break up the whiteness. The platform appears to be lined with sparsely composed wall paintings; the theatrical theme is tied to Lincoln Center.

At 125TH STREET AND LENOX AVENUE on the 2 and 3 lines, Faith Ringgold makes great use of white by corralling it into brightly patterned frames and dotting it with the isolated forms of Harlem's architectural landmarks and portrayals of the area's most famous residents, who fly overhead like guardian angels. Ms. Ringgold's piece pays tribute to the history of Harlem, as do works at adjacent stations by Maren Hassinger (110TH STREET), Vincent Smith (116TH STREET) and Willie Birch (135TH STREET).

But visually Ms. Ringgold's mosaic reflects a widespread weakness in the system. It looks good up close but contributes little to the general effect; it might almost be a portable painting. Tim Snell's mosaics at EIGHTH STREET (and Broadway), which isolate neighborhood scenes in portholelike circles are more assertive but also more arbitrary.

The most engaging historical homage I encountered was the small but surprisingly powerful ceramic mosaics created by Lee Brozgold, working with an after-school group of elementary school art students, at SHERIDAN SQUARE and Christopher Street. Depicting all kinds of significant people — including Henry James, Mabel Dodge and John Brown Russwurm, founder of the first black newspaper in the United States — these images gain force by marrying colorful mosaic with incised black-and-white drawing on larger pieces of glazed ceramic.

Other works created with students or children include Jimmy James Greene's anarchic murals at UTICA AVENUE in Brooklyn and Nitza Tufino's small ceramic plaques at 86TH STREET AND BROADWAY, although in this case the result is diminished by the gradual realization that most of the images are based on photos.

Having It Both Ways

Letting design prevail is also effective. James Garvey's "Lariat Seat Loops" at the 33RD STREET station on the No. 6 line are like mischievous bronze firehouse poles; they extend from the ceiling to the floor, looping around several large columns at hip height as they go. At once decorative and functional, industrial and frivolous, they presage the poles and handholds of the subway cars while also providing temporary seating and a bit of sly Art Deco-ish whimsy, which befits the neighborhood of the Empire State Building.

Michele Oka Doner's long, quietly shimmering wall of handmade, bronze-glazed bricks toward the south end of the HERALD SQUARE (34th Street) multiline station is another case in point. This gorgeously subtle surface is unlike any other brick wall in the M.T.A. system.

Another kind of peaceful coexistence is at the 72ND STREET and Broadway IRT station, where the new addition is "Verdi's Rigoletto," Robert Hickman's barrel-vault skylight of laminated glass. Downstairs the station's walls are punctuated by ornate carpet-pattern decorations by Heins & LaFarge: big rectangles of Persian-inspired motifs that suggest ceilings as fancy and ornate as Mr. Hickman's is plain.

Nothing I saw managed to be as simultaneously ambitious and self-effacing as the Conceptual installation that the sculptor Mary Miss, working with the architect Lee Harris Pomeroy, has dispersed through the large multiline UNION SQUARE station. "Framing Union Square" exposes the archaeological layers of the subway system's perpetual renovations.

The complex is ripe for a little deconstruction, having originated as three separate stations built by three competing subway companies. Ms. Miss's work leaves portions of old mosaics exposed and and allows old piers to jut through a floor like bits of the Roman Forum. A long stretch of mosaic border, tilting steeply toward a level floor, shows where a ramp used to exist.

Ms. Miss's interventions, which continue throughout the station, have eye-catching fire-engine-red frames, whose inside edges contain phrases and quotes reflected in mirrors, a slightly irritating but unobtrusive strategy. In one instance Squire J. Vickers, the designer of the BMT station, expresses his conviction that a plaque of color should blaze with the brightness of a jewel.

Liking subways, art and democracy, I want the three to collaborate brilliantly. This doesn't always happen, but it may happen often enough. Not all the new art in our dramatically renewed subway system will stand the test of time, but every last bit of it will become part of a living museum and never-to-be-finished creation that, despite its many imperfections, is more perfect than not.

New York's subway system expresses an urban body electric that Whitman only glimpsed, and connects each of us to the more personal one that he eloquently envisioned. It enables us to encounter in awe-inspiring physical form and complexity the energy of the past mingling with the present and evolving into the future, all in the process of getting to work on time.

A mosaic of an antiques shop, at the Eighth Street and Broadway station.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company



January 10th, 2004, 10:13 PM
January 11, 2004


Mosaics Make Sense


Q. You recently answered several questions about mosaic artworks in the subway stations. Is there any particular reason that so many artists chose that medium for these works?

A. The choice of materials for most of the art sprinkled throughout the subway system is an entirely practical one.

"We have a lot of limitations on materials because of the nature of environment,'' said Sandra Bloodworth, director of the Arts for Transit program of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for which the mosaics and other artworks are created. "We have difficult durability issues. Mosaic and tile are wonderful materials to have in the subway. They hold up, and they are beautiful."

E-mail: fyi@nytimes.com

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

December 27th, 2004, 02:16 AM
December 27, 2004

Subway Mosaic Turns Riders Into Underground Philosophers


Officer Russell King reading a little Carl G. Jung in the subway station under Bryant Park. "It seems like he's an urbanite," he said.

In the subway there is a riddle disguised as a declaration. It is engraved in gray stone on a wall of the station at 42nd Street and Avenue of the Americas, atop a staircase to the platform where the B, the D, the F and the V rumble by.

"Nature must not win the game," the inscription reads, "but she cannot lose." Each day the words float briefly before thousands of eyes. A few riders pause to ponder them as they go on their way, perhaps seeking a clue in the backdrop, a mosaic of what look like berry-bearing vines creeping through and eating away at the gray stone.

The simple-sounding sentence, the inscription says, was written by Carl G. Jung, the psychologist and mythographer. What does it signify? And what is it doing in the subway?

Who knows? Not Joe Noto.

"Honestly, I couldn't tell you what it means," Mr. Noto, an electrician on his way home to Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, said the other day. Many other riders refused even to entertain the question.

But two recent afternoons spent conducting a semi-random survey turned up a fair share of subterranean philosophers intrigued by the cryptic pronouncement, which has been on the wall since 2002. Was it meant as a reassurance or a warning? Is it a good thing if nature wins, or a bad thing?

A police officer patrolling the station, Officer Russell King of Transit District 1, which includes the 42nd Street station, has worked enough slow shifts to have had time to chew over Jung's words. "It seems like he's an urbanite," Officer King said. "It seems like we as a people in this city have to overcome everything to live." But, he added, there's a twist: we are part of nature, so if we defeat nature, we defeat ourselves. "It's like a double negative, a Catch-22," he said. "If we win, we lose." Officer King's partner on patrol, Wayne Steele, picked up the riff. "No matter what," said Officer Steele, a beefy man with a prominent mustache, "nature's going to win."

Some people tried to break the sentence into its parts.

" 'Nature must not win,' " repeated an unassuming man in a blue-and-red windbreaker, who said he was a designer of women's accessories and volunteered only his first name, Emilio, and his home country, Ecuador. "So man - man could win?" Emilio asked. "I think nature is bigger than man. At first glance, it makes me think two things. One is the grabs for a global empire - the power of the big corporations trying to run the world."

A southbound F train pulled in and Emilio got on. "But beyond the greed itself," he continued, "unless the people can make decisions in the world, it's much easier to do just a few people's interests."

The train stopped at 34th Street. Emilio got out. "Nature," he said. "Who controls nature? Nature is God. It's the fight between the power of man's greed and the power of God. And when it comes to reality, it doesn't matter how much money you have, you can't control the world." He disappeared through the turnstiles.

Meredith Sabini, a Jungian psychologist who recently compiled a book of Jung's writings on nature, "The Earth Has a Soul," said the quotation referred to a struggle between the conscious and the unconscious, or "natural," mind.

"Jung is saying we're not supposed to follow instinct blindly," Ms. Sabini said in a telephone interview from her office in California. "We're supposed to have consciousness. But that doesn't mean you're supposed to kill nature. Because the unconscious is wisdom that has grown over the millions of years we have been Homo sapiens."

The full quotation, from Jung's "Alchemical Studies," says: "Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose. And whenever the conscious mind clings to hard and fast concepts and gets caught in its own rules and regulations - as is unavoidable and of the essence of civilized consciousness - nature pops up with her inescapable demands."

Not everyone approved of the writing on the wall.

"I don't like it," said Martin Bernier, a transplanted Parisian who owns a wholesale bakery in Queens. "I don't think it's appropriate for people to see in the subway. Why do they put this here? Who is Carl Gustav Jung? I know who he is now because I made a small investigation. But it makes me feel ignorant."

Mr. Bernier pointed out that the Jung installation was part of a much larger piece that proceeds down the long corridor to the Fifth Avenue exit and includes quotations from Ovid, the nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill," and an obscure passage from "Finnegan's Wake," each being invaded from above by mosaics of golden tree roots and from below by mosaics of bedrock.

Sipping quickly from his coffee cup, Mr. Bernier, 52, led a reporter down the corridor. "Look at this," he said. "James Joyce. He's Irish, right?" The decay hinted at in the mosaics, Mr. Bernier said, assaulted the eye.

"I'm glad to talk about this," Mr. Bernier confided, "because I was very disturbed by this corridor. I have an average education, and I feel frustrated. It made me feel like an idiot."

The artist who made the piece, Samm Kunce, said the words on the wall were not meant to be easily digested. "They are ambiguous," she said. "I thought that's something that would keep the work alive."

The piece is called "Under Bryant Park," a reference to the preserve of well-tended greenery above the station, and Ms. Kunce said the Jung quotation "has to do with human imperative: our trying to control external nature - by, for instance, gardening - is an externalization of the need to control our inner nature."

Which is, of course, a doomed endeavor. "I see that as pretty comforting," Ms. Kunce said. "I'm a pretty controlling person - I try not to be, but I think it's in my nature. And you can try all you want to imagine you're controlling something but in the end, it'll take its own course - 'it' being all of it."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

December 28th, 2004, 10:43 PM
Great stuff, the subway stations are great, under utilized spaces for public and intriguing art.

October 17th, 2005, 01:56 PM
Subway Art Guide (http://nycsubway.org/perl/artwork)


A list of over 125 artworks in New York City Subway Stations.

January 21st, 2007, 09:37 AM
Train to the Museum? You’re Already There

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
“Passing Through,” Al Held’s 115-foot mural in the Lexington Avenue-53rd Street station.

nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/21/arts/design/21dunl.html?_r=1&ref=arts&oref=slogin)
January 21, 2007


A GIFT was always waiting for me last summer at the 14th Street subway station, of all places.

Emerging from chemotherapy infusions every other week at St. Vincent’s Comprehensive Cancer Center nearby, I felt as if a toxic pall had descended on me.

The pall would lift a bit, however, when I spotted the little man with the big money bag sitting quietly on the uptown platform as the Eighth Avenue trains barreled by. Without fail, he would be dressed smartly in top hat, bow tie and well-polished shoes, which dangled over the edge of the bench because his legs were so short.

He was so many things I needed to be at those moments. Calm. Patient. Trusting. Unselfconscious. And doughty, in his own chin-up way.

Best of all, he made me laugh.

So did his co-conspirators overhead and underfoot, like the alligator emerging from a manhole to drag a victim into the sewer, another one of the dozens of delightful bronze figures by Tom Otterness in an ensemble called “Life Underground (http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/artwork_show?21).”

It is one of about 170 works of permanent public art commissioned since 1986 by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for its subway and commuter rail stations, typically using 0.5 to 1 percent of a station’s rehabilitation budget.

Audio Slide Show


Transit System as Museum (http://javascript<b></b>:pop_me_up2('http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2007/01/21/arts/20070121_SUBWAYART_FEATURE.html', '600_475', 'width=600,height=475,location=no,scrollbars=yes,t oolbars=no,resizable=yes'))

Video: Tom Otterness at Work (http://video.on.nytimes.com/?fr_search=otterness&rf=bm)

On a civic level I had long admired the generosity behind the authority’s Arts for Transit program. Last summer, as I came to depend on “Life Underground” for a bit of cheer on otherwise cheerless days, I realized that the gift was for me too.


Mr. Otterness worked hard to find creative ways to place his sculpture, navigating around the rules of station design. There was no way, for instance, that a duly designated seating space was going to be given up for an artwork. So a sympathetic M.T.A. employee suggested adding an extra bench, above and beyond the number required on the platform, to accommodate the little man.

Sandra Bloodworth, the director of Arts for Transit, said the involvement of the agency’s stations department, its architects and engineers and its system safety experts has been critical. “The end goal is how we make this a better station for the public,” she said. “When you introduce art into this environment, the message is, ‘Somebody cares about this place’ ” — and, by extension, the people who use it.

A decade ago Ms. Bloodworth described the art offered by the program as on a par with any museum. Today she promotes the transit system as a public art institution in its own right, with a roster that includes Vito Acconci, Romare Bearden, Eric Fischl, Robert Kushner, Jacob Lawrence, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Maya Lin, Mary Miss, Elizabeth Murray, Dennis Oppenheim, Faith Ringgold, Alison Saar and Robert Wilson.

“I now feel this is worthy of being the destination,” Ms. Bloodworth said one morning last month. “It is the museum.”

She spoke while walking the 115-foot length of Al Held’s undulating mural “Passing Through,” in the Lexington Avenue-53rd Street station. The energy of the passing crowd found an abstract echo in the intense color of the mosaic glass tiles, spheres and rings, checkerboard boxes and slabs, orange pipes and yellow clouds.

“Al Held is not only with the corporate collectors up above,” Ms. Bloodworth said, referring to the various headquarters towers overhead. “He’s here with the people.”

Four visitors from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on their way to the Museum of Modern Art, fixed their eyes on the mural and would not let go — their necks craned and heads swiveling — even as the escalator pulled them down toward the E and V train platform below.

“That’s why we do it — right there,” Ms. Bloodworth said.

The entrance fee for this museum is just a train fare. But the distance between galleries, up to 180 miles, can be daunting.

A new $45 alternative for the armchair traveler is the 215-page catalogue raisonné, “Along the Way - MTA Arts for Transit (http://mta.info/mta/aft/about/book.html),” by Ms. Bloodworth and William Ayres, published by the Monacelli Press.


If you’re a New Yorker of a certain age, the idea of a coffee-table guide to contemporary artwork in the subway system may strike you as wildly improbable.

But “Along the Way” shows just how abundant the permanent artwork has become. It highlights nearly 70 installations, organized by artist, followed by illustrated thumbnail descriptions of every project.

The book’s chief drawback is that it is too large to use comfortably as a ride-around guide. For that, the M.T.A. has published “Art en Route (http://www.mta.info/mta/aft/about/publications.html),” a 50-page booklet pinpointing the artworks by train line. It is available at the New York Transit Museum stores or by request at the Arts for Transit Web site, http://mta.info/mta/aft/ (http://mta.info/mta/aft/), where there is also an engaging interactive guide to the collection.

Of course the subway system was born with art within it: decorative ceramic plaques and mosaic wall panels. Their durability was time-tested by a century of use and abuse. Bronze, steel and faceted glass have been added to the repertory by the Arts for Transit program, but ceramics and mosaics are still the preponderant medium.

One ceramic installation, Margie Hughto’s “Trade, Treasure and Travel (http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/artwork_show?37)” in the Cortlandt Street R and W station, emerged unscathed from the destruction of Sept. 11, 2001. It is sure to be one of the most evocative works in the subway system when it is reinstalled in the Fulton Street Transit Center, now under construction. Intended for a 60-foot-long passageway leading to the World Trade Center concourse, Ms. Hughto’s work is composed of 10 relief murals, strongly influenced by the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and meant to evoke an archaeological treasure house.


But there were contemporary references too, like panels depicting the trade center, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground and, behind one tower, what once would have been unmistakable as a cumulus cloud but now cannot help look like a plume of smoke.

The World Trade Center seems at first to be absent from Ellen Harvey’s “Look Up, Not Down (http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/artwork_show?159),” at the Queens Plaza station on the E, G, R and V lines. These floor-to-ceiling mosaic murals depict the skyline of Long Island City, Hunters Point and Manhattan, as if the viewer were suspended in air directly over the subway station.

Ms. Harvey agonized in 2002 over whether to include the trade center. “It seemed so sad to leave it out altogether,” she said.

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
Ellen Harvey’s mosaic mural “Look Up, Not Down,” at the Queens Plaza station,
depicting the Manhattan skyline as seen from Long Island City.

The panorama above the Manhattan-bound platform shows the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Trump World Tower, Citigroup Center, Queensboro Bridge and Ravenswood generating station to the west.

On the mezzanine outside the turnstiles is the clock tower of the old Bank of the Manhattan Company building on 41st Avenue, pointing to the northeast. That would mean the view on the opposite wall — the Eagle Electric Manufacturing Company plant, the Long Island City Courthouse and the Citigroup skyscraper at Court Square — must offer a distant glimpse of the Lower Manhattan skyline to the southwest.

I looked at the scene and looked at it again. There was no trace of the towers. (But then, why should there be? The murals, after all, depict a moment five months after the attack, which explains why so many American flags are flying.) I turned around once more, to get my bearings before heading home.

That’s when I saw it: a four-inch circle of white mosaic tile, almost impossible to discern in the mural’s hazy white sky. It was the sun, directly over the place where the twin towers stood, perhaps the subtlest 9/11 memorial in New York City. And a gift waiting to be found.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

February 3rd, 2008, 03:00 PM
2 maybe 3 of those architectural keystones at the Bkln Museum stop seem to have been mine originally, with this one coming from 717 East 9th street (1898) originally;


I know the red terra cotta bulldog roundel at the musem was mine, I happened to find a photo of it the other night on flickr.

I have been thinking lately about the subway art, and found a number of high res photos to look at. The Astor Place beaver plaque is one I have my eye set on to make a clay model of from the photos and measurements, chances are excellent I'll start on it early this spring if not sooner.
I also like the eagle at 14th, 23rd, 33rd and Brooklyn Bridge stops and noticed differences between them proving two mold patterns were used, I may do a model of one of those as well.

February 3rd, 2008, 04:34 PM
Hello lostnyc ...

Any chance that the MTA would allow you to work in the stations near the originals while sculpting your models?

Or would that not be helpful to you?

February 3rd, 2008, 06:46 PM
Hello lostnyc ...

Any chance that the MTA would allow you to work in the stations near the originals while sculpting your models?

Or would that not be helpful to you?

Being a public place I don't see a problem, there was a big row over photography down there with people's cameras being ordered to have photos erased, and people threatened with arrest or told that it was illegal to take photos there, but that was settled last I heard.

I am no longer in NYC and haven't been for some 20 years!

The photos I have are excellent high resolution, and as a bonus with a little searching I found the actual measurements are 22-1/2" by 14".

I had tried to scale the approx size by using the bricks of a known length below them in CAD to do so, but according to the 14" width measurement the building bricks (not the white tiles) in the wall under them are not the standard sized building bricks I am familar with, the ones that are approx 2"x4"x8", so I was happy to find the real mesasurements.

You can see one of the bricks in the attached crop, and it's length compared to the 14" width of the plaque seems to be close to around 10" maybe 9-1/2 the shortest.
I should have no difficulty making the model from the photos.

What I haven't found yet and could use if anyone knows, I need the width of the eagle plaque across the outside of the yellow border left to right, with that I can figure the rest.

The photos I have show more of the wall, so without a real measurement I would normally scale in CAD from some known object in the photo, in this case those white subway tiles or the small mosaic tiles are probably pretty standard in size except where they are cut to adjust to fit.

I believe the full intact white tiles are 6" long and the mosaic tiles that are intact and not cut to fit a design would be around 3/4" square, so I can scale the plaque in the photos using those other elements and come pretty close.
The beaver is a nice size, but the eagle might be a tad bit large, so if I felt it was too large for my purposes I can reduce it's scale slightly.

I can see doing a small series of models like these.
I just finished making a small series of four Public School gargoyles done from photos of extant pieces on the former PS 168 (104th and 1st) and her 4 sister schools in the area that were all built at the same time and have the same basic sculptures on them.

I'll put that in another thread as it's not subway related.

February 3rd, 2008, 09:50 PM
That 14 / Eagle medallion in the Union Square Station -- 4/5/6 Line section, yes? Whereabouts?

I'll look for it and take some photos and measurements and post them back here.

February 4th, 2008, 12:29 AM
That 14 / Eagle medallion in the Union Square Station -- 4/5/6 Line section, yes? Whereabouts?

I'll look for it and take some photos and measurements and post them back here.

That would be awesome and I'd certainly appreciate it Lofter1! those are on the IRT line part of the original 28 stations of which Astor place, City Hall are part of;


The Eagles were only installed at 3 of the stations- Brooklyn Bridge, 14th street and 33rd street, but I'm seeing some evidence that some of these may not even be accessable any more due to closing off of some of the platforms. On that page where the Brooklyn Bridge station is detailed there's a photo of one of the Eagles and this caption with it;

"The occasional Transit Museum tour that plumbs behind the walls that shield the abandoned side platforms reveals a couple of Grueby ceramic station eagles...which are at only three stations in the subway. "

The 33rd st eagle is different than the other stations because it has a perimeter border and the eagle's background block is also shaped differently for that, I would rather do one like those at Brooklyn Bridge or 14th st which are smaller, square and don't have that border, according to another site they are located specifically at;

"...remnants of the same wall decoration, on display in the passageway over the downtown local platform. "

So it would seem the 14th st station would be the best bet, and I have both a photo of where they are in that station as well as one of the eagle upon which I placed a couple of sets of red lines showing where a measurement across would be the most help to me- either location depending on which is reachable is fine! CAD scaling one of my images to that measurement will get all the rest based on that.

I have a few good frontal view pics of these, but none taken from the SIDE showing the amount of relief, as the wall seems to be cut out in sections it looks like a good side view is possible, so if you are so inclined a photo from the side would be very helpful as well!

I'm going to guess in advance from the size of the white tile (and we'll see if I'm close) that these are 26" wide.



Looks like they chopped out huge sections of the wall to expand this area, what a shame they wrecked so much artwork in the subway over the years with bad management and poorly thought out "renovations"

February 5th, 2008, 12:33 AM
I'll do my best to get you what you need ...

February 5th, 2008, 08:49 AM
I'll do my best to get you what you need ...

Appreciate it Lofter1!

Watch out for transit cops! I gather than anyone with a camera is almost a near suspect as a terrorist or something now, imagine what they will think of someone wielding a deadly tape measure down there!

February 6th, 2008, 10:31 PM
The deed is done.

Check your PM for more info.

February 6th, 2008, 10:37 PM
Checked and replied, thank you Lofter!

February 7th, 2008, 12:54 AM
Well, Lofter1 really DID do his best, in fact he went WAY beyond my wildest anticipation, this is a fellow who does 200% and is extremely generous with his time, photography skills and everything else, a definite asset to this forum in every way!

Thanks very much Lofter1!

February 7th, 2008, 01:17 AM
Thanks, lostnyc ...

Just so happens I like your work and really appreciate what you've been up to for all these years -- so I was glad to be of help.

I told lostnyc in the email I sent him with the photos that nobody gave me any guff, either for taking picutres or whipping out my tape measure in the middle of Union Square Station -- and some folks actually stopped with questions about the Eagle tiles.

I pretended I knew what I was talking about.

But said the real expert was in Iowa :cool:

February 7th, 2008, 01:55 PM
Thanks a lot lofter1!

I find that funny about the people in the station, I personally would have a big problem going out in a spot like that and drawing attention to myself by taking photos and all, in many ways it's like performing on stage in front of an audience or singing. In that case I would be better doing things like this if I was accompanied by someone else.

I obtained a book on subway art the other day, it's a good book, it has a couple of photos of the 33rd st eagle, including one that was damaged by drilling mounting anchor holes into for something, probably a sign.

It mentions that a woman in NJ in 1994 reproduced some of the damaged pieces at a tile company to replace them. When I searched for her and the tile company name I found pretty much everything gone- web site long gone and in the fact even the domain had expired a long time ago as well, so I decided to purchase the domain name last night since it was available, and I'll connect my subway art series to it I guess since it was mentioned a couple of times in the subway book and elsewhere.

February 24th, 2008, 07:42 PM
I started my clay model of the Astor Place beaver tonight


February 24th, 2008, 11:38 PM
Fantastic ^

It will be great to watch your progress, so I hope you post more pictures as you move ahead.

February 26th, 2008, 10:31 PM
Thank you Lofter1, I certainly will, as well as the Eagle.

March 1st, 2008, 06:13 PM
Model is moving rapidly now towards completion, of course there is a lof of refinement and cleaning up yet to do, but the clay is too soft yet to do that.
The model will have considerably more detail and projection than the extant panels in the station, I'm not trying to duplicate but to come close and add a little of my own to it. The heavy covering of glazes on the originals also blunted and hides a lot of fine details the models originally had, this will happen with anyclay model that is glazed.

The eagle will come soon but I need more clay, the Beaver is being done with a clay that is more local to me than what I have been using, the idea is the shipping costs for half a ton of clay from Portland Oregon is a LOT more than from Minneapolis, so I'm going to wait on buying more clay till I see how this works.


March 5th, 2008, 10:28 PM
Here is a drawing of The historic Astor Place Subway entrance which reminds me of the Paris metro entrance.

More at: http://www.simonfieldhouse.com/new_york.htm


March 7th, 2008, 11:20 PM
Yeah those are nice, funny how the city removed those "outdated" kiosks and now they have to pay big money for replicas to be put BACK in place.
The kiosks kept the worst of the rain and snow out of the steps.

Beaver is now finished and drying out!


March 8th, 2008, 05:28 PM
Great job!

The Benniest
March 8th, 2008, 06:55 PM
That looks awesome! Great work. :)

March 12th, 2008, 12:07 AM
Thanks guys, looks a bit different sans the colors (and grime) doesnt it!

Hope to make some casts of it in ceramic and experiment with glazes on them too.

I started the model of the Union Square eagle today, I decided to reduce the scale about 20%
even so it took 100# of clay to start with.

There's nothing that says I can't make a second one full size or even a third one smaller yet.
No photos yet, it is sitting in the ceramics room at my local college 45 miles away and I forgot to take along my camera, so it will be next Tuesday before I go again.

Decided to work on it there as I needed a project to work on in class since I finished two and took them home, and my studio work bench, stand, easel and floor have models all over the place too- getting crowded and need to get molds of all this stuff made.

Going to the 16 week class to get help with modelling human faces, I'm a scholarship recipient which helps, but the class is right in the middle of the work day which means making up the lost time at work, and there's a 90 minute round trip too. 8 weeks left to go, I figured I'd do this eagle and a female keystone or something similar but I haven't decided on the design yet- the Polyclinic has a couple of really nice sculptures on it I'm considering;

March 16th, 2008, 07:07 PM
W41st St & 7th Ave Mezzanine

http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/8132/subwayart01ji0.th.jpg (http://img156.imageshack.us/my.php?image=subwayart01ji0.jpg)

April 4th, 2008, 01:03 AM
Model progress update


The red star is a special non drying clay, modelled and fitted- when I make a plaster impression of it I can use that to duplicate the 14 stars easily.

April 4th, 2008, 10:20 AM
^ Looking great ...

How many pounds of clay did that take?

Some of the reference pics ...


April 6th, 2008, 07:47 PM
^ Looking great ...

How many pounds of clay did that take?

Thanks Lofter, he took a bit over 100 pounds if you can imagine that.
It's at the stage now where I'll have to decide real quick a few things before it dries, one is I know I'll want to make these in both hydrocal as well as fired terra-cotta, and the materials require different molds and processes entirely.
To make it in hydrocal it needs to be cast in one piece, for terra-cotta I'll want to cut the model into sections like the originals. cutting it into sections will mean I have to make molds of each piece and this has to be cut while the clay is still moist.
Once it's cut up, the only way to make the rubber mold of it for the hydrocal is to fake mortar it back together so it looks like the original with mortar lines- that all has to be done when its DRY.
So it will be a big process with this!
I expect to finish the model in 2 weeks.

You might have noticed the somewhat obvious poor job they did with the glaze on the original, it's like the blue and green in some areas have a sloppy bleed-through, almost as though they changed their minds on the colors and applied the changes over it but not very well. The company was supposed to be a well respected firm and their ware highly collectable, but on these the glazes looks sloppy or like a rush job, I'm not sure what to make of it or why they let it go through like that.

April 6th, 2008, 09:02 PM
I had thought the glazing looked a bit messy. Maybe the precursor to the MTA was a budget-cutter, too :cool:

That 100 pounds of wet clay in the medallion will dry down to what weight?

And how much shrinkage in size will you get when the piece is fired?

April 22nd, 2008, 08:43 PM
I had thought the glazing looked a bit messy. Maybe the precursor to the MTA was a budget-cutter, too :cool:

That 100 pounds of wet clay in the medallion will dry down to what weight?

And how much shrinkage in size will you get when the piece is fired?

I hollowed it all out last week Lofter once it firned up enough to handle without distortion, it's around 60 pounds now and is slowly being dried.
The moist clay shrinks about 3/4 of an inch to 1" per lineal foot when it dries, and a little more shrinkage when fired- about 8 to 12% depending on the clay and temperature. So whatever size I want to end up with I typically compensate for that shrinkage with the layout of the clay.

With this model though and my others- they are not normally fired, just dried, lacquered and used to make a rubber mold from. This particular model however will go thru that process- 5 molds for the 5 pieces, and then from the 5 rubber molds 5 plaster casts will be made and those will be "mortared" together into one piece, and a mold of that layup made to cast interior cast-stone in. That way the casts will appear to have mortar lines bewteen all the pieces like the original in the station.

The 5 individual initial molds will then be used to pour liquid mold rubber into each- making 5 solid rubber positives just like the clay model, and then those 5 solid rubber positives are in turn used to cast plaster molds from which are then used to pour either liquid ceramic or hand-press clay into

Sounds more complicated than it is, though it is quite involved.
I will however fire the eagle pieces in a kiln at some point just to preserve the original model, though it will shrink more and won't be suitable later to make a mold from because of the size change, I will have already made a cast-stone "master" to shelve and use for that purpose by then anyway, so I won't need the original for future molds.

And now it's bascially finished and cut into 5 sections- 2 less than the subway plaques have, and as it dries out I'll no doubt be refining a little here and there;


April 22nd, 2008, 09:48 PM
Wow ^ Bravo!

http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/images/icons/icon14.gif http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/images/icons/icon14.gif http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/images/icons/icon14.gif

The Benniest
April 23rd, 2008, 08:36 AM
That looks amazing lostnyc. :eek: When does the next sign start? :p

April 23rd, 2008, 11:06 PM
Thanks guys!

When does the next one start?

I'll have to give some thought as to what might come next, the issue is there are not a lot of figural pieces in the subway other than the eagle and the Astor Place beaver, but a lot of mosaics. That makes the eagles and beavers rare and unique just because most of the decoration (besides borders and ceiling bands) are multi-colored mosaic tiles not sculpted reliefs.

In looking at photos I have from flickr.com some possibles might be the ship plaque at Columbus Circle, a boat with a very fancy surround at South Ferry, and the blue oval "Bleecker street" plaque. 1, 2 or all 3 are possibilities and all would have to be made smaller in scale.

There's the Brooklyn Bridge depicted on a panel too but I'm not sure how well that very low relief would "translate" into a smaller piece- there's not alot of relief on it, it's mostly painted.

I'm also looking at an owl on that 90 West Street building that is pretty cool, I have 2 picture sof one but don't remember from where it came- scaffolding is seen in one of the photos. That owl is also pretty large even if it doesn't look it, I estimated the wingspan to be around 32"

I'm happy to say a local museum here invited me to do an art exhibition next April thru July with 10-12 pieces. Possibly one of these subway pieces might be included in my selection.

The Benniest
April 23rd, 2008, 11:10 PM
Well, whatever you decide to do, I'm sure it will be as excellent and as well done as both your beaver and the eagle you just finished.

Congrats on your museum exhibition! :D :D