Posts Tagged ‘subway art’

The sailing ships of the Columbus Circle subway

October 8, 2018

Whether you consider Christopher Columbus a hero or a villain, there’s one thing we can all hopefully get behind: some circa-1904 artistic images at the Columbus Circle subway station.

Behold the blue, green, and off-white faience plaques depicting the Santa Maria, the largest of the three sailing ships Columbus commanded on his first voyage in search of a shorter route to the Far East, according to this 1979 Landmarks Preservation Committee report.

These restored sailing ship reliefs (the second image dates to 2011, as the restoration was in progress) line the platform of today’s 1 train, one of the original stops on the IRT that opened in 1904.

City subway stops celebrate all kinds of nautical images—like at Fulton Street, where Robert Fulton’s steamboat is immortalized on the platform of the 4 and 5 trains.

Rushing by the relics of the Union Square subway

March 26, 2018

The concrete maze that is the Union Square/14th Street subway stop is a patchwork of what was once three subway stations built in 1904, 1918, and 1930.

It doesn’t have a lot of charm, but it does have subway history—especially in the form of the six crumbling pieces of masonry, tile, and terra cotta all in a line on the mezzanine level that bridges the various train lines.

These are the remnants of the original walls of the 1904 IRT station. Long thought to have been lost to the ages, they were unearthed during a 1997 renovation and then incorporated into a permanent art exhibit the following year.

Next time you’re rushing from the L to the 6, stop and take a look at them, and behold subway history.

“Artist Mary Miss created standalone panels using historic architectural elements recovered during the renovation of the 14th Street/Union Square station complex,” states the always-informative nycsubway.org.

“The six ’14’ eagles were original elements of the 1904 station construction but most were hidden in disused side platforms along the Contract One IRT route.”

The photo above, from Joseph Brennan’s Abandoned Stations site (originally included in the Board of Rapid Tansit Railroad Commissioners’ year-end report for 1903), shows the eagles against a station wall.

Miss’ urban archeology exhibit includes dozens of other subway remains scattered across the staircases, passageways, and platforms of the station, all of which have the same red border as the subway walls.

These relics, “offer a sense of intimate engagement: to look into one of the framed spaces is as though a secret is being sought and slowly revealed,” states Miss on her website. It’s something to think about next time you’re transferring trains.

[Third Photo: Abandoned Stations by Joseph Brennan]

Beautiful sailing ships at the South Ferry station

September 29, 2014

If you’ve ever taken the 1 train to its last, lovely, looping stop at the South Ferry/Whitehall Street station, you’ve probably seen them—15 beautiful terra cotta plaques depicting a sailing ship on the water.

Southferryplaque

The officials in charge of building the first New York City subway line in 1904 did a lot of things right. Not only did they hire brilliant engineers and planners, but they brought in designers to create inspiring decorative features on platforms.

Ceramic plaques like these were installed in the earliest stations. Each plaque reflects something about the station’s neighborhood or history: a sloop for South Ferry, a beaver at Astor Place, a steamboat at Fulton Street.

Southferryplaquesign

South Ferry’s ships might be the most magnificent of all, and it’s one of just a few stations that has a monogram panel with the station’s initials.

Mark Rothko’s solitary 1930s subway platforms

April 22, 2013

Rothkosubwayseries2Waiting for the subway to pull into the station can be a collective experience.

But not for the people in Mark Rothko’s Subway Series paintings. These figurative scenes, completed in the 1930s, depict isolated, Giacometti-esque New Yorkers who appear to be trapped in their own individual worlds.

These subway paintings “enabled him to focus on the horizontals and verticals, treating the figures as tall, spindly, stick-like forms,” according to the caption accompanying one of the paintings on the website for the virtual Musée Historique Environment Urbain.

Rothkosubwayseries1

“They are flat, stiff and inexpressive and yet suggestive of an inaccessible inner drama.”

Rothkosubwayseries3A 2012 biography of Rothko by James E.B. Breslin had this to say: “As in all his subway paintings, Rothko’s interest is not in the trains but the platforms: modern, public, urban spaces where strangers come and go—or wait.”

“His stations are not grimy, dark, hellish underground spaces; nor are they filled with quick-moving, shoving, noisy rush-hour crowds. Rather, they are bare, compressed areas which contain a slow, quiet, and solitary mobility.”

Rothko, born in Russia and raised on the West Coast, moved to New York in the 1920s and soon began his career as a painter. Classified as an abstract expressionist, he spurned the label his entire life.

An earlier post on the most famous painting in the Subway Series.

The beavers of New York City

September 1, 2010

New Yorkers made a fortune off the fur of this water-loving rodent 400 years ago, and its image adorns the city’s official seal as well as public and private buildings.

This one at left decorates the Municipal Building at Centre Street.

The similar little guy on the right can be found on elevator doors inside 125 Worth Street, headquarters of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

But the coolest beaver image of all is this one, carved above a doorway at 16 West 32nd Street in the heart of Koreatown. I’d love to know what the building was once used for.

One more cute little beaver lives underground—in the Astor Place subway station, appropriately enough.

Stained glass beauty in Bronx subway stations

August 19, 2009

Every borough has at least a few subway stations that feature stained glass. But the Bronx seems to have more than any other, especially in the little stations at local stops for the 2 and 5 trains.

From “Latin American Stories” by George Crespo at the Jackson Avenue station:

Latinamericanstories

One of several panels from the Prospect Street’s “Bronx, Four Seasons,” by Marina Tsesarskaya:

Fourseasonswindow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of Daniel Hauben’s The El, at the Freeman Street stop:

TheElwindow

“Seventh Avenue Subway”

August 7, 2009

Painter James W. Kerr’s 1931 depiction of an IRT subway car, with riders characteristically absorbed in their own worlds just the way riders are today (but without iPods to help them really zone out, of course).

Hard to believe that at the time Kerr painted this scene, the IRT was only 26 years old.

Seventhavenuesubway

The painting belongs to the Museum of the City of New York, which has a terrific collection of city-themed works by New York artists.

Alice in Wonderland waiting for the subway

March 23, 2009

Alice had her adventures underground after falling down the rabbit hole. So it’s fitting that these mosaic murals of her, the Mad Hatter, and other characters can be found underground on the 1 train platform in the 50th Street station.

aliceinwonderland1

Installed in 1994, the murals are collectively called “Alice: the Way Out” by artist Liliana Porter. 

aliceinwonderland2

Alice isn’t only underground in New York City; the beloved Alice in Wonderland sculpture is in Central Park off East 74th Street.