Daily What?! There Was Once a Venetian Lagoon in NYC’s Canal Street Subway

Alexander Brodsky-Canal Street Abandoned Tracks Subway Station-Public Art Fund-Subway Project-Venetian Lagoon-NYCAlexander Brodsky’s Venetian Lagoon in Canal Street Subway Station. Photograph by Andrew Moore

For two months as the year 1996 turned into 1997, a mirage of a Venetian lagoon appeared to commuters on a portion of abandoned tracks in the Canal Street station. Russian architect Alexander Brodsky , known for his work like Columbarium Architecture (Museum of Disappearing Buildings) with fellow architect Ilya Utkin in the 1970s, was behind the Public Art Fund installation in New York. Sitting in a 50 foot long tank of water, eight life-size gondolas were made out of tin carrying plywood passengers. The scene was illuminated by lights and the sound of water lightly lapping. Music accompanied the backdrop of a perspectival Venetian street scene.

Alexander Brodsky-Canal Street Abandoned Tracks Subway Station-Public Art Fund-Subway Project-Venetian Lagoon-NYC-7Photo by Andrew Moore and James Dee via Public Art Fund

A clear reference to the original nomenclature of Canal Street, the Canal Street subway project brought a lost piece of history back while testing the boundaries of reality. As Brodsky himself describes, “It’s real and unreal at the same time. You stop for a few minutes trying to understand what it is and why it is here and then you go on with your life, keeping the mirage in your memory. You might come back another day to check—was it a dream or not?”

Alexander Brodsky-Canal Street Abandoned Tracks Subway Station-Public Art Fund-Subway Project-Venetian Lagoon-NYC-8Close up of the model of the project. Photo by James Dee via Public Art Fund

Alexander Brodsky-Canal Street Abandoned Tracks Subway Station-Public Art Fund-Subway Project-Venetian Lagoon-NYC-5Photo by Andrew Moore and James Dee via Public Art Fund

Brodksy had a captive audience for this installation, as the abandoned tunnel was used temporarily as a transit between the 6 line and the N/R line while the station was undergoing capital improvement.

Alexander Brodsky-Canal Street Abandoned Tracks Subway Station-Public Art Fund-Subway Project-Venetian Lagoon-NYC-3Photo by Andrew Moore and James Dee via Public Art Fund

Alexander Brodsky-Canal Street Abandoned Tracks Subway Station-Public Art Fund-Subway Project-Venetian Lagoon-NYC-4Photo by Andrew Moore and James Dee via Public Art Fund

Alexander Brodsky-Canal Street Abandoned Tracks Subway Station-Public Art Fund-Subway Project-Venetian Lagoon-NYC-003Photo by Andrew Moore

The Canal Street Subway Project was part of In the Public Realm, a program of site-specific proposals and projects by New York artists—and MTA/Arts for Transit. This project was a natural extension of the imaginary, whimsical work Brodsky was doing in Russia in an era of massive urban renewal, amidst a state uninterested in creative housing. He would go on to do other pop-up installations like the Palazzo Nudo, a 55-foot tall house skeleton in Pitsburgh built with pieces from demolished buildings in 2000 and an ice house with vodka bar on a reservoir north of Moscow in 2003. He returned to the topic of Venice at the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale, and today is known for both his permanent built structures and art installations.

Next, read about 20 of NYC’s abandoned subway stations and platforms. See more work from the Public Art Fund here. Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.

 Alexander Brodsky, canal street, Daily What?!, MTA Arts & Design, Public Art Fund

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