Every month, we take two groups of intrepid readers to spend an afternoon tracking down the Remnants of Penn Station, of which there are numerous if you know where to look. As such, we see the small changes that take place over time in the much maligned station, as retail institutions like Penn Books close due to rising rents, as the strip of pizza joints, TGIF and Häagen-Dazs shut down as the operators of the station push for an upgrade of retail, to mirror Grand Central Terminal‘s shopping revolution. But of note recently is a non business-related change that has happened. A Maya Lin sculpture that even frequent visitors to Penn Station never notice has gotten an upgrade, and it’s an essential one.
Maya Lin, the American sculptor most well-known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., has a piece in Penn Station (more accurately, in the ceiling of Penn Station) within the Long Island Railroad concourse. Installed in 1994 and called Eclipsed Time, the conceptual clock tells time via the movement of light, except for as long as any of us can remember the lights weren’t working. Suddenly, about a month ago the lights were lit again and the piece was given a whole new dimension.
How it works:
First find the McDonald’s. When facing it, walk left into the main thoroughfare of Penn Station and walk away from the McDonald’s about 15 feet. Look for a thin metal band in the floor in the shape of an oval and look up. There’s also small plaque from Arts for Transit on a column nearby.
If you stand under the art piece, facing away from the ticket counters and look up, you’ll see a sand-blasted glass disk with notches showing the hours and quarter of the hour. An aluminum glass disk moves between the glass disk and the light source, which creates shadows on the glass disk. The shadow intersects with the markings of the hours and quarters of the hour, giving an approximate time.
At noon the entire piece of glass is visible with no shadows, and at midnight, the entire glass disk is covered with only light on the edges visible: hence, an eclipse as referenced in the title of the work.
The plaque warns however, “Eclipsed Time is not intended to keep precise chronographic time. Do not set your watch by it.” The functionality of the piece is intended to harken back to an earlier era, and “returns the measuring of time to a pre-industrial concept: the movement of light. Lin reminds us that ‘time is as much a function of nature as a construct of society.”
So the next time you’re rushing to catch a train, look up and take a moment in time.
Join our next tour of the Remnants of Penn Station, in partnership with The Eternal Space, a play about the demolition of Penn Station. The tour is so popular that a new date has been added for the perpetually sold out event.
Tour of the Remnants of Penn Station
Next, check out where the 22 eagles of the original Penn Station ended up. Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.
Michelle is the founder of Untapped New York. She is the author of Secret Brooklyn: An Unusual Guide, New York: Hidden Bars & Restaurants, and Broadway. She is a graduate of Harvard College in the History of Art and Architecture and holds a master’s degree in urban planning from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where she is an Adjunct Professor of Architecture.