It is an art gallery visited by millions each year, yet only a few people actually take the time to look at the art that adorns its walls. Like the New York City transit system, the Montreal subway system is full of commissioned art work. Each of the 68 stations is decorated in a unique manner and numerous works of art are integrated on the subway platforms, staircases and crossing points.

The first stations of the Montreal metro were built in 1966, during Jean Drapeau’s tenure as mayor. A man of many projects (the 1967 World fair, the 1976 Olympics), Jean Drapeau wanted to make Montreal a cultural capital worthy of being named along the likes of Rome, Paris or Milan. With his colleague Robert Lapalme, he planned for each of the subway’s stations to include works of art that would recall the city’s history. Some of Quebec’s most renowned artists of that era were called upon to illustrate various scenes such as the history of music in Montreal or life in the 19th century.

In the beginning, art in the Montreal subway was financed by patrons and private sponsors. When the subsequent stretches of the subway system were built, the cost of including public art was calculated in the stations’ construction budgets. Only a few of the works of art in metro stations have followed Lapalme and Drapeau’s initial plan. Today, the art that is on display in this giant underground art gallery is varied in form and in subject.

In no particular order, here is a list of interesting art installations to discover throughout Montreal’s subway system:

André Léonard, Large relief, 1980, Université de Montréal station (Blue line)
André Léonard, Large relief, 1980, Université de Montréal station (Blue line)
 Jean Mercier, Murals, 1986, Acadie station (Blue line)
Jean Mercier, Murals, 1986, Acadie station (Blue line)

For a full list of the artworks on display in the Montreal metro system, check out the STM’s website.