Many of Untapped Cities’ writers and photographers revel in accessing New York City’s off-limits spots, but often, incredible remnants of urban archeology are hidden in plain sight. Our popular Remnants of Penn Station tour reveals what still persists despite a massive demolition more than 50 years ago, but another subterranean transit spot uses art to highlight former history. Walking through the Union Square subway station, you may notice bright red outlines scattered throughout. More than mere decoration, the color intervention is part of a 1998 MTA Arts & Design commission, “Framing Union Square” by Mary Miss.
The pieces showcased come from a renovation of the Union Square station and range from large standalone wall pieces to infrastructural portions of the station – pipes, signage, and the like. The six terra cotta eagles that date to 1904 were thought to have been lost, but were unearthed in the renovation.
Along one corridor between the 14th Street and 17th Street entrances are narrow openings, with printed fragments of the station’s history, like telephone cables and names of former transit workers.
On the metal bars that offer a look down onto the 4/5/6 platforms, the artist highlights the name of the structural piece: “Steel bulb – angle column” and above the wall pieces, “1904 Greuby Faience,” the name of the ceramics company that produced the mosaics for the first subway line.
Miss said of the project, ““I’m inviting the public to look below the surface, to see a ‘slice’ of the station, its structure, its history, says the artist. In this most public of places, the apertures offer an intimate engagement. Looking in, you will see the station’s workings – sometimes you will see layers of words and reflected images, including your own!”
Don’t miss tracking down all the spots that are part of “Framing Union Square” in the subway station – there are even some on the platform levels.