Part Two of my “MMB: Art in the Subway Series” takes us beneath one of the most famous, iconic sites of New York City: 42nd Street. The network of subway lines navigating this street was part of the first regularly operated system that started at the turn of the 20th Century. This enormous, intertwining maze is a central hub for transport in the city, so big that I can only reasonably cover one of it stations’ art (and not all of it). You will not be disappointed, I assure you – it is Times Square, “The Crossroads of the World.”
One interesting tidbit – do you know how Times Square got its moniker? It’s actually named for the New York TImes newspaper, whose headquarters housed the original station in its basement.
The art installations – whenever I use this term I can’t help of think of the “Sex and the City” character Alexandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov) who was more entranced with his light installation than with his lover, Carry Bradshaw – sorry to digress – let’s get back to reality.
The art installations of the Time Square Station carry a common theme that is right on point: life in the subway in all its splendor and squalor. First up, a piece by a world-renowned artist: Roy Lichtenstein, who unfortunately passed away before his 6 foot-tall, 53 foot-long porcelain enamel mural was set in its home near the main entrance at 42nd Street and Broadway. It is simply titled:
Times Square Mural
A native New Yorker who had ridden the subway since boyhood, Lichtenstein’s vision of the subway was a futuristic view using his familiar signature elements of science fiction and comic books. In addition, there are references to the New York World’s Fairs of 1939 and 1964 in addition to the classic Buck Rogers adventurer stepping out of his space ship (originally the hero of a pulp fiction magazine in 1929). The “42” section is patterned after the original 1904 station plaque.
Jacob Lawrence is one of America’s leading African-American artists and many of his works document the history of African-Americans. His impressive glass mural captures the essence of New York City – the diversity of neighborhoods, cultures, pleasures in sports and other recreational pastimes, and of course the subways. Frankly I this piece needs to be located in a place where the light could illuminate his work – its positioning unfortunately produced glare from all vantage points, obscuring the work:
NEW YORK IN TRANSIT
There was lots of humor to be found below ground (I am talking about the art, not the people) as well as you will see in the next set of artwork. The artist, Lisa Dinhofer obviously had sympatico with those who have to trudge daily in the bowels of the subway – often many (including myself before I retired) feel they are close to:
LOSING MY MARBLES
There are two sets of glass mosaics – one a 32 foot long mural and the other a clever piece that spills over onto an adjacent wall. How often have you felt aspects of your life spinning away out of control like these marbles?
Is there anyone anywhere in the world who is not familiar with the insanity that is welcoming New Year’s at Times Square? This whimsical sprawling series of 70 life-size mosaics created by the artist Jane Dickson is a stop-action snapshot of the antics of those who gather above at Times Square on December 31st to party and watch the glittering ball drop to announce the start of the New Year.
From the ridiculous to the sublime – Classical Mythology also finds itself honored in another pair of mosaics created by Artistic Mosaics Travisnutto of Italy, from paintings by artist Jack Beal. Upon a cursory glance, these seem simple depictions of New York street scenes; one showing construction workers and other city folk in front of a subway kiosk, the other a scene of onlookers watching a film crew film a woman entering the subway as snowflakes start to fall above the lamppost in the right corner::
RETURN OF SPRING
ONSET OF WINTER
There is a subtle subtext to these murals. In the classical myth, The beauteous goddess Persephone is abducted by the God of the Underground, Hades and forced to become his wife. Her mother, Demeter, discovering that the great God Zeus was an accessory to the abduction strong-arms Zeus to agree to free her daughter (don’t mess with Mother Nature – or any mother protecting her young). Persephone, however, instead of fasting as part of the agreement eats a bunch of pomegranate seeds (lots of fecundity imagery here) making the deal null and void. More negotiations ensue and an alternate deal was constructed, allowing Persephone to visit her mother Demeter for six months every year. The periods above and below ground denote the change of seasons spring/summer and fall/winter. Persephone as such becomes the goddess of spring and regrowth. The artist Beal uses this myth’s tale as a metaphor for the subway, as people travel above and below the surface.
My favorite collection, created by artist Toby Buonagurio perfectly catches the tone, mood and passion of 42nd Street and so I have saved it for last. There are 35 glazed ceramic panels located in the corridor between the 42nd Street Shuttle and the station for the 1,2 and 3 subway lines. So easy to miss, as I have in the past, but I am thrilled to have found them for they are pitch-perfect, preserving moments that are emblematic of the New York I know and love. This also brings us full circle back to the title of this post. See if you agree:
TIMES SQUARE TIMES: 35 TIMES
More Subway Art to come in future posts – but a little diversion next week for a different type of revelry.