The redesigned entrance into the 34th Street-Penn Station subway station (on the 1/2/3 lines) opened to little fanfare and a beautiful, subtle mosaic artwork got even less attention. If you don’t look closely, the work The Arches of Old Penn Station by Diana Al Hadid might seem like an abstract work of art, albeit with gorgeous blues, teals , pearls, and golden browns. But history buffs will recognize the a resurrected glass atrium of the lost Pennsylvania Station resurrected in this work.
Located just after the turnstiles, The Arches of Old Penn Station is especially poignant as the hated followup to Penn Station undergoes significant renovation. Stores that once had remnants of the original glass flooring in Penn Station have closed up, even newer art like the Maya Lin Eclipsed Time have been removed for renovation.
The Arches of Old Penn Station particularly highlights the height of the old Penn Station, designed by the firm McKim, Mead & White. It was this very glass, darkened with soot and painted over during World War II, that proponents of the station’s demolition cited when describing the building’s supposedly irreversible decline. The pearly white mosaic tiles are used to recreate the steel and glass structure of the lost Penn Station and on both sides of the piece, the work fades out into all white tiles as if questioning what the future might hold.
The work, along with the accompanying Arc of Gradiva also by Al Hadid, which is located outside of the turnstiles, were commissioned by MTA Arts & Design. In its official description, MTA Arts & Design states that “The Arches of Old Penn Station on the west wall holds a painterly image of the original 1910 Beaux-Arts Penn Station grand interior, dripping and obscured, suggestive of an image slipping off the surface, but also tied and held to the grid of the surrounding tilework” and that both works “are meditations on the unique history of Penn Station and a reflection of its transient atmosphere as one of New York City’s immense transportation hubs.”
Gradiva is a mythological character who wanders the ruins of Pompeii, used by Al Hadidto suggest a “ghostly apparition” from the past following the footsteps of people who traverse the station. “When considered together,” MTA Arts & Design contends, “one might imagine that Gradiva has come to claim both the original Penn Station in its former glory, as well as stake her presence in the newly improved subway station.” Al-Hadid previously had an exhibition inside Madison Square Park called Delirious Matter, which featuring a similar fragmented approach to subject matter.
You can see this work and numerous remnants of the old Penn Station on our upcoming tours of the Remnants of Penn Station: