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Vito Acconci / Acconci Studio, Wall-Slide, 2002 at Yankee Stadium

In 2012, we ventured through the entire subway system in New York City, looking for the best subway art. Here are our top 10 favorites, gathered into one article! For more, check out the separate pieces on the 7 line, J/Z, G/L, B/D/F/M, A/C/E, N/Q/R, 4/5/6, and the 1/2/3.

1. Abandoned Myrtle Avenue

1-Myrtle Ave-Subway Station-Abandoned-Art-New York-Untapped CitiesA rendering of the installed art piece at the abandoned Myrtle Ave subway station. Source:MTA

Closed in 1956, Myrtle Ave subway station used to run on the BMT line between Manhattan Bridge and DeKalb Avenue. The northbound platform still exists and an artwork called Masstransiscope by Bill Brand is located inide. Installed in 1980, the piece works like a giant zoetrope. The artwork is painted on a 300 feet of reflected material and the inside is illuminated by fluorescent lights. The piece was restored in 2008 and after another restoration this year, you can finally check it out again. See here for a video.

2. Bryant Park (7/B/D/F/M)


Samm Kunce, Under Bryant Park, 2002.

One of the largest subway art pieces in the city is Samm Kunce’s Under Bryant Park (2002), which is, as you would guess, in the subway station beneath the park itself. A grand and awe-inspiring depiction of lightning stretching across the sky, the mural also contains quotes from Mother Goose and Carl Jung.

3. Broadway/Lafayette St. B/D/F/M station


Leo Villareal, Hive, 2012.

Brightening up this station is Leo Villareal’s neon light installation. Villareal, whose repeating hexagonal light sculptures together resemble a glowing beehive, seems to be commenting on the high-speed buzz of life that daily passes through the station.

4. Smith-9th Street (F/G)

Smith-9th Street Subway Art-Gowanus-Brooklyn-NYC

The renovated station which re-opened in April 2013 has two pieces of nautically influenced art by Alyson Shotz, including nautical charts from Gowanus and Red Hook, its surrounding neighborhoods, on every window, and the larger scale Compass Bearings, at the foot of the escalators.

Smith-9th Street Subway Art-Gowanus-Brooklyn-NYC_1

5. Times Square Sound Installation

One of the few installations that are actually located outside of the subway system itself, Max Neuhaus’s sound art installation is unmarked and unnamed, and therefore easy to miss. If you stand on top of the subway grates on 7th Avenue on a day with less human traffic, though, you’ll hear it–deep, organ-like sounds flowing up from the grating like steam.

6. Houston Street 1 Line

Out of the many mosaics that adorn the MTA subway, Deborah Brown’s Platform Diving adds quite a playful nature to this station. With beluga whales, turtles, and manatees making their underwater commute, Brown mischievously places these itinerant animals right behind their human counterparts.

7. Metropolitan Avenue (G)


Jackie Chang, Signs of Life, 2000.

A favorite of Instagram users across Brooklyn and beyond, the philosophically challenging statements within Jackie Chang’s “Signs of Life” murals directly address commuters at this station, asking them to pick a side on issues such as “Faith or Fate?” and “History or Your Story?”

8. New York Aquarium (N/Q/R)

Inspired by the curves and drops of the nearby Cyclone roller coaster, this station’s walls and stairways seem to dip and sway as you walk past. An intersection of art and architecture, this station’s Wavewall is a must-see.

9. Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center

One of the more remarkable installations on this list is George Trakas’s “Hook, Line, and Sinker,” a steel sailboat suspended the middle of the station, high above the sea of human transit.

10.Essex and Delancey (F/J/M)

SubwayArt4SqList

The vibrant colors of the naturalistic mosaic that coats the walls at the Essex & Delancey subway station brings a splash of color to subterranean New York.

Bonus: There’s also a real Roy Lichtenstein, signed, right in Times Square!

There’s even art on the regional transit lines–check out what’s at the Huntington Station on Long Island. Also see our series on sequential art in NYC.

This article was written collectively by Michelle Young, Isabelle Yisak, Kristen Gaylord and Kelli Trapnell.

7 Comments

  1. arleengeller says:

    LUV THIS ARTICLE, SUCH WONDERFUL ART BELOW GROUND, THANKS FOR SHARING.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Regarding the Bryant Park installation, the tendrils represent roots going under the ground, just as the quotes along the wall have to do with water. After all, the piece is called _Under_ Bryant Park.

  3. Mark Lale says:

    What the hell is this I’ve been sent on my e- mails??? New York ‘Subway Art’???? Scrolling down & searching hard I was half expecting some archive 70’s/80’s archive photos by mr Henry Chalfant or miss Martha Cooper of full colour ‘installations’ adorning the sides of subway cars a plenty….nice top to bottom wholecars by artists such as SEEN,BLADE,LEE QUINONES,DUSTER, DONDI WHITE-(RIP),IZ THE WIZ-(RIP),KASE 2-(RIP),STAY HIGH 149-(RIP). Whilst I appreiciate other forms of art that maybe situated in or around New Yorks infamous subways & whether or not your a fan of NYC’s Graffiti past & ‘golden era’ thereno denying its worldwide impact & influence in art,artists & we can’t forget the always important & much loved kids…..art & expression is a universal thing! Always has been & always will just like drawing/painting on walls & trains!!!

  4. These are wonderful, but don’t forget the *original* subway art – Heins & LaFarge’s ceramic panels (some by Grueby Faience and Rookwood Pottery) with what we might now call icons – panels with images suggesting the name of each IRT station (most famously the ceramic beaver at Astor Place – a reminder of the Astors’ role in the fur trade), Squire Vickers’s Arts and Crafts abstract tile designs, and more. The Transit Museum put it all into an exhibition and book in 2004 (100th birthday of the IRT) called “Subway Style” (full disclosure: I wrote the text) with fabulous photos by Andrew Garn. The main mistake made in the early days was the size of the ceramics – so small they could easily be missed. The new art makes up for that in spades – you can’t possibly miss it.

  5. Rob Weiss says:

    Hi – this is a great post with some really interesting art. Thank you!

    We’ve just written a post on our blog at http://www.renthop.com detailing some other great NYC subway art, including works out on Coney Island and Prince St., and on the abandoned City Hall station at the end of the 6 (which is itself pretty amazing and rarely seen). We’d love it if you’d come have a look! Here’s a link:

    http://www.renthop.com/news/2014/01/new-yorks-best-subway-art/

    Thanks for your great work!
    Rob

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