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Along the Way: MTA Arts for Transit, Celebrating 20 Years of Public Art

June 30 - September 9, 2005


(above: Roy Lichtenstein, Times Square Mural, 2002, Times Square-42nd Street. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein)


A new exhibition at The UBS Art Gallery in midtown Manhattan will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the MTA Arts for Transit program. Highlights of Along the Way: MTA Arts for Transit, Celebrating 20 Years of Public Art, on view from June 30 to September 9, 2005 at The UBS Art Gallery (1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York City), will include works by Roy Lichtenstein, Jacob Lawrence, Eric Fischl, Elizabeth Murray, Tom Otterness, Nancy Spero and Acconci Studio currently on view in the transit system.

Founded in 1985, MTA Arts for Transit carries on the original mission of the subway: to make the system inviting and attractive, as well as fast and efficient. Enhancing the functionality, appearance and individuality of transit stations through artwork and creative design, Arts for Transit has commissioned and installed 125 works in subway and elevated train stations throughout the city, 27 artworks along the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road lines, and has 40 additional projects in progress.

Along the Way will depict more than 150 Arts for Transit projects currently in the system, highlighting approximately 40 works from the past ten years that reflect the diversity of New York and feature elements of local history and neighborhood landmarks. The exhibition will provide an opportunity for Gallery visitors to experience the transit system's "collection" beyond the works seen on their daily commute. Original drawings, paintings and collages, station photographs, sample mosaics, models and maquettes will illustrate how these enduring site-specific installations are made.

A tour through the transit system, Along the Way is loosely organized by artistic medium, featuring works in traditional materials like glass and ceramic mosaics, as well as non-traditional sculptural, mixed media and architectural installations. The exhibition will also explore key themes in Arts for Transit works, including New York history, neighborhood character and scenes from daily life. (right: Eric Fischl, Garden of Circus Delights, 2001, 34th Street/Penn Station. Photo: Rob Wilson)


New York History

The complex and multi-layered history of New York is often evoked in Arts for Transit works, which explore how the urban landscape has changed over time. Roy Lichtenstein's Times Square Mural (2002, Times Square-42 Street, N Q R S W 1 2 3 7), a 16-panel mural of porcelain enamel on steel, is a skyline view of a "retro-futuristic" New York City. Wittily referencing science fiction, the New York World's Fairs and his own past works, Lichtenstein explores the idea of the once new becoming old.

Ming Fay's mosaic work Shad Crossing / Delancey Orchard (2004, Delancey Street-Essex Street, F J M Z) is a multi-faceted exploration of the history, geography and nature of the Lower East Side. Three murals show cherry trees from the DeLancey family's historic 1800s neighborhood orchards, as well as schools of the once-endangered shad fish and water that symbolizes commuter travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Passages (2000, Whitehall Street R W), a series of ceramic plaques by Frank Giorgini, explores the integral role of the harbor in city history. Views include contemporary skyscrapers surrounding Battery Park, a steamship docking in the harbor, the walled New Amsterdam fort and Henry Hudson's ship the Half Moon, and Native American canoes. Images of birds unify the work, appearing to fly between the plaques.


Neighborhood Character

Many Arts for Transit projects are site-specific and inspired by local communities, responding to the character and diversity of the neighborhood. Robert Wilson's My Coney Island Baby (2004, Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue D F N Q), a 370-foot glass-brick wall, features silk-screened archival images celebrating the characters and entertainments of historic Coney Island. Uptown New York (2000, Tremont Avenue B D) is a colorful celebration of Bronx apartment life, inspired by artist Frank Leslie Hampton's childhood home. The glass and stone mosaic depicts a view from an apartment window, with laundry lines hung with freshly washed clothes, neighboring rooftops and the skyscrapers of Manhattan beyond.

Lincoln Center, one of the nation's most important performing arts areas, inspired Nancy Spero to create Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers (2001, 66 Street-Lincoln Center 1). The mural depicts creative and active women from classical mythology, archaeology, history and contemporary life, including the Diva of the Opera, musicians and athletes. Samm Kunce's Under Bryant Park (2002, 42 Street-5th Avenue B D F V 7) explores what might literally and metaphorically lie beneath the park. A fanciful journey through the earth's strata, Kunce uncovers shimmering water pipes and intertwined tree roots, as well as thought-provoking literary texts by James Joyce, Ovid and Mother Goose that have burrowed underground from the New York Public Library above.


Daily Life

Although many Arts for Transit projects explore local history and neighborhood landmarks, others strive to capture the experience of city residents who utilize the system. Jacob Lawrence's glass mosaic mural New York in Transit, (2001, Times Square-42 Street N Q R S W 1 2 3 7), pays tribute to the diversity and strength of New York City, capturing the pulse of the city's cultural life, recreational pleasures and love of sports. Owen Smith's An Underground Movement: Designers, Builders, Riders (1998, 36 Street D M N R) celebrates the designers and engineers who created the transit system, the workers who dug tunnels and laid miles of track, and the commuters who ride the subway every day.

Playful interpretations of the commuter experience include Elizabeth Murray's mosaic work Stream (2001, Long Island City-Court Square G / 23 Street-Ely Avenue E V), which features feet streaming along a passageway between subway lines, brightening and transforming the transit experience. Eric Fischl's Garden of Circus Delights (2001, 34 Street-Penn Station A C E) depicts a commuter being drawn into the bizarre and surprising world of the circus, meeting animals, clowns, acrobats and fire-breathers along his way to work. Jack Beal's The Return of Spring (2001, Times Square-42 Street N Q R S W 1 2 3 7) modernizes Greek myth and echoes a commuter's daily journey as Persephone emerges from the darkness of the subway "underworld," carrying daffodils and heralding the arrival of spring.


Non-Traditional Installations

Many Arts for Transit works are made from durable ceramic and glass mosaics-traditional materials designed for resiliency in underground or outdoor locations. However, in recent years, Arts for Transit has also commissioned unique sculptural, mixed media and architectural works, revolutionizing the concept of art in the transit system. Acconci Studio, in collaboration with architect Daniel Frankfurt, transformed the entire façade of elevated station at Coney Island (West 8 Street-New York Aquarium F Q) for one of Arts for Transit's most ambitious works. Unveiled earlier this year, the station design allows for views of the ocean from the elevated train platform. A sinuous windscreen echoes the motion of a wave, the nearby Cyclone rollercoaster or the subway itself, and the façade bulges and curves around the station stairwell and seating areas in a manner that artist Vito Acconci compares to breathing.

One of the most imaginative subway installations is Life Underground by Tom Otterness (2001, 14 Street-8 Avenue A C E L), which features more than 100 bronze sculptures of people, animals and objects, ranging from a legendary alligator rising from the sewer to telephones with human features. Foot-tall figures carry oversized building tools, peek under fences to watch construction and sweep up piles of pennies. Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz's A Gathering (2000, Canal Street A C E) is a sculptural installation of 174 grackles and blackbirds and seven crows, cast in bronze with black patina, that roost around the station booth, turnstiles and railings. A lighthearted work with a sense of humor, the birds are engaged in lively, quizzical interactions. (right: Tom Otterness, Life Underground, 2001, 14th Street. Photo: MTA Arts for Transit) 


MTA Arts for Transit

MTA Arts for Transit commissions permanent public art and presents performing artists throughout the Metropolitan Transportation Authority network, touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of city-dwellers as well as national and international visitors. The permanent art, by well-established and emerging artists, creates unique visual links to neighborhoods, echoes the architectural history and design context of individual stations, and uses the materials of the system: mosaic, ceramic tile, bronze, steel and faceted glass.

Along the Way: MTA Arts for Transit, Celebrating 20 Years of Public Art is made possible by UBS.


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