kings college terra cotta chambers street subway station
Tile from the Chambers Street Subway Station

Since the 1980s, the MTA has installed hundreds of site-specific works of art throughout the subway system. These pieces of art have been designed by world-famous artists in order to create a beautiful underground art museum for the millions of daily subway riders. The Arts for Transit program was a continuation of the philosophy established by the founders of the subway system that “every design element in the system should show respect for our customers and enhance the experience of travel.”

The original subway art was composed of terra cotta and mosaic and often depicted scenes that once graced the surrounding neighborhood. According to one account, they served as a map for tourists and the illiterate. Here are some of the best examples that can still be found in some of the subway’s oldest stations. To see some of these pieces of art up close, join us for an upcoming Underground Art in the NYC Subway tour:

Underground NYC Subway Tour

Tourgoers look at an art installation at the 14th Street subway station

1. Wall Street (IRT) Station

Wall street subway art

The Wall Street IRT subway station contains mosaics that depict an image from the founding days of New York City. The foreground depicts the eponymous wall that was constructed by the Dutch to keep the British out. In the center is what appears to be a stereotypical Dutch stapled colonial house. The wall began as a picket fence in 1653 before the Dutch slowly expanded it to a 12-foot-high barrier over the years. Unbeknownst to most, the wall was almost destroyed by pigs!!!