While the MTA has an official Arts & Design team that commissions and curates the permanent and temporary art installations in the New York City subway, an unofficial “MTA Museum” has been launched by two college students in New York City focusing on, well, the unsung detritus that makes up a part of the subway experience for the common straphanger. This includes materials like chewing gum, trash, urine, mucus, food, alcohol, buttock prints, and more. The project is curated formally just like an exhibition in an art museum, with description cards that include title, date, provenance, and a QR code that leads to an audio guide.

So far, the museum has selected stations in a particularly unrestored state like the Chambers Street-Brooklyn Bridge J/Z station (a stop on our Underground tour of the NYC Subway), the Bedford Ave L station, the Astor Place station, and 14th Street/6th Avenue. More installations are on the way and you can follow the updates with the hashtag #MTAMuseum.

Photo by Tim Korn

The titles are fun, sometimes referencing fine art practices like “Untitled | Drip Art,” and “Untitled | Butt Pattern.” Other titles include “Of Mice and Men,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Oasis of Concrete,” “We Got You Man” (with an empty gold frame), “Concrete Jungle Dreams of Bubble Gum,” “What Dreams Are Made Of.”

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The description of “We Got You Man” states, “This accidental masterpiece was created by a Williamsburg hipster after a multiple rounds of PBRs just hours after his 21st birthday.” A binge evening most New Yorkers have experienced, whether as a participant or stranger bystander. “Stairway to Heaven,” is placed on a column at Bedford Ave just before the staircase, with the statement , “At the turn of the century, the MTA installed these analog climbing structures to empower New Yorkers without access to gym memberships or personal trainers. These architectural pieces also helped because there weren’t elevators yet.”

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“Untitled | Drip Art” connects the water stains to actual art history: “These patterns were created via gravity and other natural processes over a period of decades. The drip patterns are a possible homage to the drip paintings of Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, who received his formal training at the Art Students League of New York in Manhattan.” “Of Mice and Men,” is a “live installation” that “captures the essence of the daily NY hustle in a literal rat race. Live cockroaches were used to add further political commentary to the piece.”

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“Concrete Jungle Bubble Gum,” featuring a dense pattern of gum remnants is described as “inspired by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, these black organic shapes coated with saliva were transformed into an everyday creative masterpiece when spat on the floor.” “Untitled | Butt Pattern” is “a political statement on transit and the concept of rest, millions of New Yorkers collaborated over a period of decades to meticulously create these unique patterns using only their posteriors.” And “What Dreams Are Made Of,” another pillar at Bedford Avenue, “represents a piece of live collaborative art, and has been slowly created over 114 years with hundreds of layers of paints, graffiti and New Yorkers’ bodily secretions.”

Next, check out the Top 10 Secrets of the NYC Subway.